Muslim Brotherhood logo(Source: http://www.verfassungsschutz.niedersachsen.de/master/C806292_N808071_L20_D0_I541.html)
Egypt (MNN) -- Chaos continues in Egypt today as the country marks the one-year anniversary of Mohammed Morsi's overthrow. The former President and Muslim Brotherhood leader was removed following a year of protests, and continual violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood isn't the only Islamic party vying for control of Egypt.
"Soldiers of Egypt", an Islamic militant group, warned last week of an upcoming attack. Though they took credit for a bombing outside the presidential palace on Monday, four terrorists associated with "Partisans of Jerusalem" -- another militant Islamic faction -- were arrested in connection with the crime yesterday.
Ahkmed*, a Muslim-background believer supported by Advancing Native Missions, shares an insider's perspective.
"I don't like to say 'terrorist group' because they are obeying Qur'an," he explains. "And, Qur'an gives them orders to do what they do."
Ahkmed's ministry seeks to engage Egyptian Muslims in conversation about Islam, and introduce them to the Gospel.
"Our vision, our ministry in Egypt [is] to explain for people everything about this Way, to explain that Jesus Christ, He is the light, He is the salt," says Ahkmed.
"Islam is [a] spirit of deception," he adds. "When you want to talk with Muslims, uncover [the] deception, uncover [the] lie."
(Photo cred: Ruth Kramer)
Missionaries like Ahkmed are standing with Egyptians in need. Political transitions and ongoing social turmoil are making the suffering of the poor even more unbearable.
ANM is preparing a container full of supplies like clothing, backpacks and more for them. You can help fill it here. As indigenous missionaries distribute supplies, they will have an opportunity to share the Good News and hope of Christ.
"Remember: Egyptian Church, American Church -- we are One Body," says Ahkmed. "Satan doesn't like us to be one, because Jesus said, 'Be One'."
Pray for peace in Egypt. Pray Islam's deception will be thwarted. Pray Western believers will support their brothers and sisters in Egypt.
Learn more about the work of Advancing Native Missions.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram.(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Nigeria (MNN) -- Sunday morning, services at four different churches in Nigeria near Chibok were interrupted by gunfire.
The Boko Haram are suspected behind the murders of over 30 people--a tally that continues to grow. Along with the attacks on churches, the insurgents shot villagers and burned homes.
The name Boko Haram which means western education is evil, is finally hitting mainstream media and getting the attention of the western public.
Emily Fuentes of Open Doors USA says this fact alone speaks to the intensifying violence of the Boko Haram.
Unfortunately, as it is brought to the attention of Americans, the stories quickly become stale as people become desensitized or choose to ignore them.
It's true for Christians, too.
This inattention could stem from the fact that many people are unaware of who the Boko Haram are.
Fuentes puts it simply, saying, "Boko Haram is the Islamist extremist terrorist group in Nigeria, and their name literally is translated: 'western education is evil.' So to them, anything associated with the west is evil and something to be destroyed. This includes educational institutions and westernized government, but specifically Christians or churches."
She says, "In the early 2000s, there were rarely any instances between Muslim extremists and the rest of the country. But every year it's progressed because of this group."
When Fuentes visited Nigeria in 2012, she said things had already turned for the worse. In some villages, Boko Haram attacked daily.
And now, Fuentes explains they are finding new ways to attack the Body of Christ.
"They're stepping up their tactics, too," she says. "They're going in [disguised] sometimes as pastors, sometimes as police officers, just to trick people into getting into their cities."
And it continues to get worse.
Fuentes is an individual who hears the stories of violence from Nigeria on a regular basis. For someone in that position, it can be easy to look at the attacks as Nigeria's condition without considering that they are individual events affecting real people. In other words, it's too easy to forget compassion.
So how does Fuentes keep it all in perspective? Scripture.
She draws our attention to Galatians 6:9, "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (ESV).
This verse, she says, helps her remember to pray for the Christians in Nigeria. And it is a reminder for all of us that no matter how hard it gets, we are still responsible to do the good that Christ has called us to.
"It's just such an important reminder of the need to pray for our brothers and sisters who are risking it all to attend church, to be Christians, to not give into this extreme version of Islam just for their own safety."
The Body of Christ in Nigeria gets it.
"One of the most amazing things is that these Christians are still so faithful to gather at church together."
While in western culture it is common for Christians to miss church when we feel sick, Nigerians insist on going to church when they know it could be their last day alive.
It is common that during attacks, members of Boko Haram will give Christians an ultimatum: die or convert to Islam.
"These Christians are knowing what could face them every Sunday, that Boko Haram could target their church, and yet they're still gathering. They're being faithful to follow Christ in spite of all of this," Fuentes says.
"The number one thing they're asking for is our prayers: pray that God will change the hearts of members of Boko Haram, because He has done that in the past. Former members have come to Christ. [Pray also] that He would really just protect His church and allow them to be the light in this region."
Their faith is steadfastly grounded in the Gospel.
While in Nigeria a few years ago, Fuentes and the team she was with met a pastor whose primary ministry was to establish security for nearby churches. There is disagreement as to whether is biblical to hire security guards. Many consider it to go against the turn the other cheek principle that Christ taught.
When asked about the danger of newcomers to the church, the pastor admitted it was hard. There's no way of knowing whether these people are pretending or whether they're sincere.
And the pastor said the struggle hits close to home, explaining that his name was Muslim--which meant somebody took a chance on him to share the love and truth of Christ.
Can you imagine questioning in fear every visitor that comes to your church?
Fuentes says, "It's just amazing--dilemmas and moral dilemmas that never would cross my mind here."
Pray as our brothers and sisters have asked. Pray for the softening of the hearts of Boko Haram. Pray for the Christians' strength, courage, and boldness. Pray that God would guide them in security decisions.
Stay updated on Nigeria here, and consider supporting the work of Open Doors.
According to Operation World, more than 300 French towns and cities with a population of over 10,000 people have no evangelical presence.
France (MNN) -- As a developed nation, France seems like it would be teeming with Christians. In reality, church attendance in France is among the lowest in the world. According to Operation World, more than 300 towns and cities with a population of over 10,000 people have no evangelical presence.
"Less than 2% of the population [has] a relationship with Jesus," says missionary Andrew Howell. "The French, in general, don't have much use for the Church or see its relevance."
With help from The Mission Society, Andrew and his wife, Margaret, are reaching the French for Christ.
Originally from Alabama, the couple spends a portion of each year serving in family ministry with Famille Je t'Aime. After encountering a lot of resistance to straightforward outreach methods such as Bible studies, the Howells took a different approach to ministry.
"Our approach [is] to meet a felt need--where marriages are in difficulty, like many places in the world," shares Andrew. "By addressing those issues, we had an open door to give churches the opportunity to reach out into their communities."
Twice a month, Andrew and Margaret hold seminars centered on some aspect of family counseling: marriage, parenting, dealing with teenagers, communication, etc. Communities are invited to the attend the event, whether it's a one-day or weekend conference.
"Sometimes we'd have folks arrive who would say, 'Well, I'm not a believer. Can I come?' and our response was always, 'The Truth of Scripture applies to anyone, whether they believe or not,'" Andrew says.
Andrew Howell and his wife Margaret are reaching the French for Christ.(Image courtesy The Mission Society)
The couple addresses community needs through teachings and counseling that are based on Scripture. They also incorporate prayer into seminars and individual meetings.
"We're very clear that the principles we propose come straight out of the Bible," he notes.
As Andrew and Margaret meet one-on-one with French families and couples, questions arise that lead to opportunities. The Howells are often asked, "Why is there a difference in the way you relate?" and "What is it that makes your marriage different from ours?"
"And, it would open doors for us to talk about the importance of that relationship with Jesus," Andrew explains.
The best way to help their work is simple. "Pray. Pray for opportunities. Pray for people's hearts to be open and receptive to the Gospel."
You can help them with practical ministry needs here.
If you'd like to read more stories about how God is working in France, visit this page.
USA (MNN) -- Moving beyond the Bible literacy crisis, Bible literacy is at a crisis point, as Biola professor Kenneth Berding noted in a recent article.
(Courtesy of Biblica)
But what’s behind the steady drop in Bible reading? Is Bible literacy--knowing more facts about Scripture--really the end goal? And can we turn a generation of non-Bible readers into Bible lovers?
Not reading the Bible is like living on a diet of chicken nuggets and French fries. That’s how New Testament professor Kenneth Berding puts it. Writing for Biola Magazine, Berding says we’re slowly killing ourselves with a lack of Bible reading. “Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book,'" he notes. “They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it, and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.”
If this sounds a bit alarmist, consider the following. When Gallup measured Bible reading in the 1980s, 3 in 4 Americans claimed to read Scripture at least on occasion. Two decades later, that number had fallen by 20%. That’s like losing 700 Bible readers every day.
Three excuses for not reading the Bible
What’s causing our growing disenchantment with the Bible? Berding identifies a few popular scapegoats--reasons people may give for not reading the Bible that are probably excuses in most cases:
1. Lack of resources
“It’s surely not for lack of resources,” Berding writes. At least not in America, anyway. (There’s actually an alarming lack of access to the Bible in other parts of the world.)
While Bible ownership has decreased slightly in America--from 92% in 1993 to 88% today--the typical home still has 3 Bibles. A quarter of U,S, households have 6 or more copies of the Scriptures (source: Barna).
If you think it’s because we’re living in a post-Christian culture, Berding wants you to think again. Quoting fellow New Testament professor David Nienhuis, Berding writes, “Much to our embarrassment, it has become increasingly clear that [Bible literacy] is really no better among confessing Christians, even those who claim to hold the Bible in high regard.”
3. Lack of time
Is it that people don’t have enough time to read the Bible? That’s certainly the #1 reason people give when asked what keeps them from reading more. Berding emphasizes that for some people, overwhelming busyness is a real issue. Just think of the single mom who has to work multiple jobs to put food on the table.
But what about the rest of us? Has “I’m too busy” become a pretext for apathy?
The average American watches almost 40 hours of TV per week, according to Nielsen data. That’s more than 5 hours each day. If you add up all forms of media consumption--TV, radio, social media, video gaming, it comes to a whopping 60 hours per week. Surely some of that time could be better spent.
If it’s not a lack of access, growing secularization, or a lack of time, then what’s causing us to read the Bible less than we used to? Could it be, as Berding suggests, a matter of misplaced priorities? “Meditating day and night on God’s Word is something that everyone must do,” he writes. “It is basic to the Christian life.”
But what if there’s even more to it than that? What if it’s not only a matter of misplaced priorities, but also misplaced expectations?
Bible literacy? Or something bigger?
Conversations about Bible reading often focus on Bible literacy--that is, our knowledge of certain facts about God’s Word.
There’s no question our collective knowledge is diminishing. In his article, Kenneth Berding shares about a former student who didn’t know the difference between King Saul and Saul-turned-Paul-the-Apostle. Other anecdotes are not hard to come by--showing, for example, that most American’s can’t name the four Gospels, identify more than a few of the Ten Commandments, or tell the difference between the Sermon on the Mount and popular (but not biblical) sayings like, “God helps those who help themselves.”
These are not isolated cases. Bible literacy is falling in the church. But is that the real issue? Or is it the symptom of a larger problem?
"A Bible lover will become a Bible learner, but a Bible learner will not necessarily become a Bible lover," says
“The Bible writers often speak of loving God’s law,” says Paul Caminiti, Biblica Vice President of Bible Engagement. “They compared the Scriptures to great treasures like gold and silver, or to delicacies like the finest honey.
“We’d be better off cultivating Bible lovers rather than Bible learners,” Caminiti suggests. “A Bible lover will become a Bible learner, but a Bible learner will not necessarily become a Bible lover.”
Bible literacy comes as a result of good Bible engagement. But it’s not the end goal. “Bible reading is an acquired taste,” Caminiti says. “If at some point we don’t help people fall in love with Scripture, they will walk away from it. And hundreds do every day.”
The question is, how do we help people acquire a taste for the Bible?
Addicted to Scripture
It’s not as though people don’t care about the Bible. Almost 70% of Americans still believe the Bible is God’s Word. More than 60% say they wish they spent more time reading the Bible (source: Barna).
Caminiti believes it’s not a simple matter of telling people to read their Bibles more. We have to look at how we read. “We won’t reverse the dismal Bible reading trends by simply challenging people to get their priorities straightened out,” Caminiti says. “We have to offer new and better ways of reading the Bible.”
For one thing, this means less fragmented reading: less “verse of the day” and more reading of whole books. “Philip Yancey once said that the modern church has created an entire culture around Bible McNuggets,” Caminiti shares. “We consume tiny fragments of Scripture outside of their original context. And we’ve just assumed these fragments were nutritious. But subsisting on a diet of isolated verses is a recipe for spiritual anemia.”
But this also means we have to make Bible reading a community exercise again. “That’s how most people originally experienced the Bible,” Caminiti explains. “Churches would gather to hear one of Paul’s letters read out loud. The Israelites would assemble for the public recitation of the Torah [the Jewish law], and then they would spend some time talking about what they’d heard.”
It may seem like a simple formula. But Caminiti believes changing how we read--learning to read whole units of Scripture in their original context and sharing the experience with others--are key to reversing the downward spiral of Bible engagement.
“If we can help people rediscover their love for God’s Word,” Caminiti predicts, “Bible literacy will follow. We’ll see the kind of ‘Bible revival’ that Professor Bergman and many of us long for.”
(Courtesy Gospel for Asia)
Asia (MNN) -- Gospel for Asia women missionaries Champa and Bakul had been accused of a man’s death, chased out of the village, and warned to never come back. Despite that, a small group of believers continued to grow every day, and built a structure in which to worship.
The village’s fellowship started in 2001 with one paralyzed man named Tariq. When Champa and Bakul first visited his house, Tariq could feel nothing in his legs. But after the two women prayed for healing, his cold legs became hot, and he was able to shake them.
The missionaries shared the Good News with Tariq and his family, and they began to visit every week, praying for Tariq’s full healing and teaching from the Bible. As they learned about Jesus Christ, the five members of the family, along with three of their neighbors, put their trust in Him.
Shortly after, Tariq died.
The untimely death caused an uproar in the village. As the newest people in Tariq’s life, Champa, Bakul and their God were denounced as the tragedy’s cause. The missionaries were chased out of the village.
If Champa and Bakul returned, villagers warned them they would pay the consequences.
Church Grows Despite Threats
With threats hanging over them, Champa and Bakul remained quiet for two weeks. But as the Lord placed courage in the believers’ hearts, the small fellowship began to meet again, and it started to grow. Ignoring the danger, new people joined the fellowship every day.
Soon, the congregation was too large to meet in a house, so the believers decided to raise money for a temporary church building. Although most of them earned meager wages as field laborers, they collected $400 in nearly a month.
Villagers strongly warned the believers against constructing the church, but the believers were resolute. Two months after the house of worship was complete, the anti-Christians delivered the consequences. The group assaulted believers, destroyed the church building, and began leveling false accusations against the Christians.
“Believers are visiting our houses and destroying the photos of our god and goddesses,” the group said. Soon, members of the community started believing it.
Despite the opposition, the believers continued to meet in houses and welcome new members. Eventually, however, they gave in to their neighbors’ demands that they leave, and they rented land outside the village. Perhaps there, they thought, they could finally worship in peace.
Congregation Builds Outside Village
After collecting another $500, the believers built a simple structure on their rented piece of land, but their rejoicing was short-lived. In 2005, two years after their first building was destroyed, an elephant trampled their new one.
(Courtesy Gospel for Asia)
The anti-Christians laughed at the congregation’s predicament. “These people are not doing good work,” the villagers said. “They are destroying our forefathers’ culture and customs. Our god is not happy with them, and that is the reason this church building got destroyed by an elephant.”
Despite the accusations and mockery they faced, the believers quickly rebuilt the church and continued with worship services. The next year, an official pastor, GFA missionary Ekanpreet, was able to come shepherd the flock.
Over the next four years, the church grew. Even threats of banishment from the village didn’t stop new believers. But in 2010, a great storm ripped through the area, and once again, the believers’ church became a casualty.
For the fourth time in eight years, the congregation put itself to work, creating yet another place to worship their God. Like the other buildings, it would be flimsy and highly vulnerable to the elements, but the believers didn’t have any other options--unless someone offered them help.
Believers Sell Belongings for a Permanent Solution
With their temporary sanctuary in place, the believers decided it was time to find a permanent solution to their problems. They didn’t have much money after all the buildings they had constructed, so they sold their personal belongings. But even that wasn’t enough.
Fortunately, God had already provided for their need. When Pastor Ekanpreet requested help from his leaders, they sent the remaining funds for the land as well as funds for a big, beautiful church building.
(Courtesy Gospel for Asia)
Made from sturdy materials, it wouldn’t be vulnerable to the elements the way their short-term structures were. And it was large enough to fit every member. Ten years after Champa and Bakul first came to the village, the believers finally had a place to call home.
Today, 60 believers worship together in the church, which is one of the largest in the area. And though some might be tempted to take that for granted, Pastor Ekanpreet and the congregation know it was only granted by the grace of God.
With help from supporters around the world, the congregation finally built a solid house of worship, able to stand up to storms, elephants, and their anti-Christian neighbors.
By Michael Rivera (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (http://goo.gl/vCK1SF)USA (MNN) -- Many were surprised Monday to hear the Supreme Court had sided with Hobby Lobby regarding the contraceptive mandate outlined in the health care reform.
Lifeway research indicates that 43% of Americans strongly agree that employers should provide contraceptives for their employees, even if it goes against their religious beliefs.
In many arenas, it seems that the trend is heading toward less protection of religious freedom.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has especially felt this in their campus ministries. In 2010 the Supreme Court restricted campus ministries from being able to choose leaders based on religious criteria.
As a result, more and more colleges and universities have been kicking them off campus.
Greg Jao of InterVarsity says, "I think the Supreme Court, like much of American society, is trying to figure out what is the role of religion in public life right now."
Cases are piling up regarding the ability to deny services for beliefs, whether all marriages should be equal, etc. The country is undergoing a fundamental reassessment on how religion relates to…everyone.
Jao says this is all part of a larger question that the country is facing. He says the question is: "What role and what freedoms do religious believers have--whether Christian or not--to pursue their work in a way that reflects their beliefs?"
In trying to answer this question, Jao says they are running into another problem. The U.S. culture has become increasingly removed from an understanding of what religious belief is.
When Jao meets with college admins to discuss any conflict about their leadership requirements, they ask him why they can't select leaders based on knowledge.
Jao tells them, "Religions imply belief. Actually, the fundamental issue for Christians, for example, is if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you are a Christian, and belief is inseparable from what we do.
"And you could tell as I spoke to them, some of them just had a blank look, thinking, 'Religion doesn't work that way. It's just a knowledge issue.' So there's a worldview difference there."
Along with the worldview differentiations comes a shift from "religion as truth" to "religion as a personal preference." People on both sides of different religions are tending more and more to view religion as a private preference that shouldn't affect one's decisions.
Jao references Lesslie Newbigin, a missionologist who was concerned about religion moving from an issue of truth to an issue of values.
Jao says, "I think when we reduce our beliefs to mere preferences, we're denying the truth of our faith. Christianity is not built on a set of preferences about what we would like to believe. Christianity is built on a historical event. A man, Jesus Christ, lived and died in such a way that inescapably we've come to believe that He was God in the flesh."
Jao compares a religion that is a preference to ordering a pepperoni pizza. If it's just a preference, then it really doesn't matter that you believe anything. To take that metaphor further, what's to stop you from switching back and forth between toppings every once in a while?
"When religion is reduced to a private preference, it becomes a private set of beliefs that have no practical implications." Jao explains that private preferences are irrelevant and easily dismissed.
With this in mind, Jao reminds us that on the other side of things, we need to be gracious in how we present truth to people. The way to do this, he says, is through our testimonies.
InterVarsity teaches college students how to be effective and loving in the high education community. Jao says, "There are private personal implications to your faith in terms of what you believe, what you long for, and who you hope to become. But there are practical outworkings of that that should affect everything you do. It should affect the excellence with which you study. It should affect the ethics in the ways that you relate to people. It should change the way you buy things, because you're concerned not just about what's cheapest but what's also just. It should change the ways that you relate to your government in your neighborhood."
Because of the work of InterVarsity, many students are actively living out their faith. They are changing majors to become more effective in the world.
It's too easy as Christians to look at a group of people opposing our beliefs and get angry at them. As the culture shifts to be less friendly to Christians, we shouldn't get mad at the culture. It is entirely ineffective, and even counterproductive.
After a university derecognizes InterVarsity as a campus club, Jao says he reminds the students that the administration of those schools are not the enemies: they are the mission field.
"Good missionaries don't hate the mission field, nor are they surprised that the mission field isn't more Christian," he says.
In a similar way, Jao says that if Hobby Lobby didn't win the case, it would only serve as a reminder that we need to be a positive, united community that influences people in a loving and effective way.
And Jao doesn't believe that Hobby Lobby's win was a one-time thing. He believes that the Supreme Court will continue to be protective about issues regarding the internal workings of the Church or religious body.
However, Jao says, "I do think the Supreme Court will continue to be uncomfortably vague in the ways they interpret 'what are the implications of someone's religious belief in the external world.'"
He continues saying, "We're as frequently disappointed by [the Supreme Court's] decisions as we're encouraged by it."
And regardless of what their decisions prove to be, Christians have a responsibility.
"I think we need to be clearer on why we believe what we believe, and the implications of that."
Jao adds, "Our hope and our salvation doesn't come from a unanimous Supreme Court; it really comes from the Maker of heaven and earth."
InterVarsity is already doing this through their campus ministry, and they are hopeful about the long-term vision that is being formed now.
"The college students that we're working with today will be on the Supreme Court in 30 years. They will be in Congress in 20 years. They'll be leading the businesses and churches that we participate in or visit in 10 years," Jao says.
InterVarsity is redoubling their commitment to teaching students how to study Scripture for themselves. More students are involved in Bible study with InterVarsity than at any other time in their history. They've also seen the number of Christian converts double in the last 10 years.
They are training students not only to think critically about their faith, but to present the Gospel clearly to unbelievers. They're reminding them that their faith isn't reduced to worship on Sundays, but that it occupies the rest of the week.
InterVarsity is not changing the culture by getting angry. They're changing it by fostering a generation of Christians who are sincere about their faith.
And with the tightening of reigns on Christian practices in the United States, InterVarsity is urging students not to sacrifice their faith in light of what the government is demanding.
"In the end, integrity matters. Choosing what God desires you to do now will set you up for a lifetime of being able to do that in the future," Jao says.
This is how InterVarsity is dealing with the shifting culture of America while the country grapples with the question of religion.
How are you dealing with it? Are you getting angry and complaining without any action? Or are you working to influence the culture in a positive and healthy way?
Here's one option you might consider: get involved with college ministry. No, you don't have to quit your job.
It's as easy as spending time as a church to pray for high schoolers who are about to enter college. Or, you could gather college students during the summer to have an honest conversation about the temptations and difficulties that occur in the workforce or everyday life.
It is even as simple as praying every time you drive past a college campus. Jao says we don't need more Christian colleges: we need more vibrant Christians working to redeem campus colleges.
Jao says we need to hold the future leaders to a higher standard, not fight the culture.
South Sudan (FH/MNN) -- In this day and age, God has given us many tools that help us anticipate and prepare for hardships. As stewards and workers for God, Christians should take advantage of that. For one area, trials are plentiful, with more coming if nothing is done.
(Photo by Food for the Hungry)
A year ago, Food for the Hungry (FH) had offices in South Sudan. They were excited to help this new country establish communities and rebuild. With seven South Sudan offices in Malakal, Bor, Old Fangak, Waat, Lankein, and Ulang—they were ready to work.
Today, the Malakal office is burned down and the others are looted. The staff fled to safe locations in January after violent conflicts erupted. Some FH staff went to Ethiopia, but now they are returning to work, replenishing offices with new computers and communications equipment.
Life in South Sudan is hard right now. People continue to be displaced within Upper Nile and northern Jonglei, with refugees arriving daily in Ethiopia. People flee to safety when one fighting party or the other takes or abandons a town. But now people are returning.
For example, people who fled Ulang at the height of the conflict are now coming back to South Sudan for multiple reasons. The town was taken over by fighting forces, but now it has changed hands. It is also the right time to return for these people, as it is the season when they must cultivate crops if they are to have a harvest.
(Photo by Food for the Hungry)
The United States Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has provided funding for FH to deliver seed, hygiene and water supplies, and equipment to counties in the conflict areas where there are significant concentrations of displaced people. “It is the most flexible OFDA grant I have ever seen,” said one FH staff.
Essentially it allows FH to deliver to whatever counties are accessible and where there are people in need, in the conflict areas of South Sudan. Therein lies the challenge!
A year ago, the seed and water supplies would have been purchased in Uganda, trucked to Juba, put on a barge down the White Nile to Malakal, and then delivered by boat to the project locations. Now, those locations are accessible only by air, and there is simply no more capacity at Juba Airport.
So the seed is trucked from Juba to Rumbek, and will be flown from there. The FH field staff in South Sudan have prepared lists of the most needy in the communities, and they will be responsible for distribution of the seed, along with food from the World Food Program.
There are already dire warnings from the Famine Early Warning System and the United Nations of a food crisis in the months ahead, so seed delivery is being given top priority.
But there is no airstrip in Ulang! Under normal circumstances, the nearest airstrip is in Nassir--only a few kilometers up the Sobat River. But Ulang is held by the opposition and Nassir by the Government of South Sudan. In theory, humanitarian assistance is allowed to “cross the lines,” and indeed seed is being flown from government-held Juba to opposition controlled communities.
But out in the counties, there have been attacks on convoys, burning of trucks, and destruction of food supplies. So for Ulang, things must be done differently. FH has signed a contract with the World Food Program to air-drop food. WFP cargo planes load in Gambella, Ethiopia, then fly to a designated location.
The bags are dropped from a height of about 300 meters to the ground, where FH staff and the local communities have organized distribution. And as for the seed: it will go from Juba to Ulang on a helicopter operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services.
You can be part of this work. Click here to help FH provide for staff and find ways to keep working in these areas. Thank you, and please pray for their work during this critical time.
For more stories about South Sudan, click here.
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/17thfiresbrigade)
Iraq (MNN) -- The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, shortened their name to Islamic State over the weekend, declaring victory.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs USA, explains the significance. "They have now declared a Caliphate across this region. They have declared the leader of ISIS as the new Caliph, who essentially is taking the title as the leader of the world's Muslim people."
Over the last 1,400 years, Muslim extremists have tried recreating the Islamic state that ruled over the Middle East and much of North Africa. It appears that in taking the world by surprise, they've finally succeeded. The potential is unnerving. "If every Muslim accepted this, he would have over a billion followers. Now, this is a self-anointed title. This is something that they've just declared."
On the first day of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, the group not only declared the establishment of a new Islamic state, it also demanded worldwide Muslim allegiance. Nettleton says, "We will see how this affects the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria. It will also be interesting to see how other Muslims around the world respond to this."
(Image courtesy SAT-7)
A Caliphate is an empire governed by Islamic principles, an aim noted as one of al-Qaeda’s stated goals. However, while al-Qaeda says they want to unite Muslims of all sects under a new supreme Muslim ruler, ISIS considers only Sunni Muslims to be true, while the Shia and any groups like Christians or Muslim-Born Believers are considered heretics, deserving of death. "This is something they've had in the works for a long time, but the world really has been taken by surprise," Nettleton observes.
Already, their presence has been marked by a grisly trail of gore. In Aleppo, Syria, pictures appeared of three new crucifixions. In Mosul, Iraq, penalties were exacted on a Christian family that couldn't afford to pay the poll tax (jizya). The new Sharia regulations have stilled every church bell in the city.
There's not a lot of options for the non-Sunni. "Those who are from these traditional Christian communities, they have a chance, in some cases, to sign the jizyah agreement, to agree to come under the control of Islam but to stay alive. An apostate, on the other hand--a Muslim convert: they don't even have that option. They only option is 'return to Islam or die.'"
Nettleton warns that it's going to get even harder for those who stay behind. "Once they (I.S.) take over territory, they put in government; they start to choke off their opponents. We've heard stories of the electricity and the water being cut off to Christian neighborhoods or Christian villages outside of the cities."
(Image courtesy Wikipedia)
VOM is supporting families of martyrs and actively equipping indigenous evangelists in all areas of Iraq. VOM distributed 4,000 Bibles to the Kurdistan region of the country in 2012. Right now, Nettleton says, it's too dangerous to do much. "As far as open ministry, that is not something that ISIS is going to tolerate, particularly outreach evangelism--sharing the Gospel with Muslims." There are thousands of the displaced inside Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan. Even there, "Any gospel work that's going on in these communities is far underground, is secretive, and is something that we should be in prayer for."
Pray for a stable democratic government in Iraq that respects the rights of all Iraqis. Pray for protection for Christians during this time of upheaval and danger. Pray for ministry opportunities for churches and Christian relief organizations working in Iraq.
By Michael Rivera (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (http://goo.gl/vCK1SF)USA (MNN) -- One of the most dangerous threats to a Christian's faith is to be unaware that there is any danger at all. Ignorance is bliss is not applicable in the Christian life.
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, giving them the ability to opt out of providing contraceptives for all of their employees.
Bethany Christian Services--a pro-life, non-profit Christian organization--views the ruling as a great victory for religious freedom.
Bill Blacquiere of Bethany says, "We were very pleased, and I'll say we found much joy in the ruling by the Supreme Court, I think for two reasons."
The first reason, Blacquiere says, "As a family-based organization [Bethany] that is very pro-life, we believe that life begins at conception; so we are very pleased that the Supreme Court gave the religious freedom to family-owned Christian organizations that can make that ruling."
Blacquiere's second reason: it reinforces religious freedom for Christian organizations.
For those who may not remember, Hobby Lobby balked against the contraceptive mandate as outlined in the health care reform. In Hobby Lobby's view, some methods of birth control abort a life that's already started.
This was their religious conviction, yet they were being asked to provide for an act they see as murder. The opposition said it wasn't even a matter of religious freedom.
Blacquiere explains that there is a common view in legislation--and across America--that an individual should keep his religious beliefs inside the house of worship and shouldn't base his decisions on religious beliefs.
Simply put, "There's a lot of non-Christians who don't understand religious freedom," nor do they understand that a religious belief goes beyond the place of worship.
Blacquiere says that when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, they were essentially saying, "It is more than just at your place of worship; you can carry out and live out your strongly-held beliefs as you're doing your work and as you're living your life."
In short, it was a matter of religious freedom.
Meanwhile, Christians in America may be asking, "So what? Why should I care?" Many have even ignored the case completely. But at the same time, others have been fervently praying the whole time.
Blacquiere says, "It's a very big deal in that a lot of our religious freedoms were being eroded. And I think sometimes with this kind of situation, Christians think: 'Well, no matter what I do, it's not going to change.' And there again, I think it shows--through prayer and faith and standing up--what victories could be won."
Bethany is a non-profit Christian organization. They were not made to provide contraceptive health care in the first place. However, Blacquiere says this ruling does effect Bethany Christian Services.
Basically, it is another stronghold against the decrease of religious freedoms.
"I think in terms of establishing the rights of faith-based organizations, whether they're for profit or non-profit, this ruling does a whole lot to help us retain our religious freedom.
"Had the court ruled the other way, I think a lot of people opposed to faith-based organizations would have seen it as a victory and would have tried to take more steps to eliminate our religious freedom."
This case serves as an example to Christians that we need to be united in our purpose and active in our beliefs.
"It's very important for Christians to be aware of public policy and what's going on in our Congress, what's going on in the Executive Branch, and to be willing to stand up to those issues that challenge our religious freedom.
"We need to be active; we need to be aware of what our government's doing and make a stand for it. It's not judging others or being against others, but it is standing up for religious freedom."
Maithili New Testament recordings are nearly complete!(Image courtesy ASM)
South Asia (MNN) -- There's reason to rejoice in South Asia. One of the region's 500+ languages is about to gain access to God's Word. According to Audio Scripture Ministries, Maithili New Testament recordings are nearly complete.
Between 30 and 50 million people in eastern India and Nepal speak Maithili, and the language is mostly used by high-caste (Brahmin) Hindus. High-caste Hindus have a large influence on India's culture and language, and "non-Brahmin" speech is generally regarded as inferior.
Audio Scripture Ministries helps non-readers have access to God’s Word with audio recordings of the Bible in their heart language. In a tough world, God’s Word in audio can provide some hope and the knowledge that there is a God who loves them enough to send His Own Son.
When editing is completed on the Maithili New Testament recordings, it will allow millions of people to hear the Gospel. For many, these audio Scriptures will be their first introduction to Jesus Christ and His offer of eternal salvation.
Pray that the day of completion arrives soon. Pray for workers who can carry God's Word to Maithili speakers who've never heard about Jesus Christ.
Learn more about the work of ASM here.
(Photo by World Mission)
South Sudan (MNN) -- The world's newest nation is also the most fragile, according to a U.S.-based nonprofit.
Fund for Peace says the South Sudan crisis launched this country to the top of their "Fragile States Index" -- which formally went by "Failed States Index" and was topped by Somalia for six years.
"People are suffering horribly. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced into about 30 refugee camps that are located in extremely inhospitable areas," shares Mark Kelly of Baptist Global Response.
The South Sudan crisis has been growing since December 2013, when accusations began circulating among the country's army and political leaders. Fighting quickly took on ethnic and religious dimensions, though the roots of the crisis were political.
A ceasefire was in the works at the beginning of 2014 but quickly fell through.
"Even if a ceasefire actually took hold and worked, a food crisis is still very, very likely to emerge," Kelly adds.
Earlier this month, South Sudan's President warned of "one of the worst famines ever" resulting from drought, poor crops, and man-made conflict.
(Image courtesy BGR)
"This isn't a natural famine cycle, which [South] Sudan is really susceptible to, but it's a man-made disaster solely caused by the political crisis, the military crisis," says Kelly.
In response to the ongoing South Sudan crisis, BGR is working with their in-country partners to form a relief effort. A BGR partner team recently conducted an assessment trip in an area that has been overlooked by other aid agencies. Up to $100,000USD has been approved for the relief effort, which will focus primarily on water.
Help their efforts go further here.
BGR undergirds the work of Southern Baptists worldwide and partners with others who are like-minded. They seek to demonstrate God's love to people in need, which means the Gospel is a top-of-mind priority in all they do.
"Families in a horrible crisis situation like this are very open to a word of hope, and they're looking for some ray of hope in the midst of all this difficulty," shares Kelly, citing the South Sudan crisis as an example of their Gospel focus.
(Image courtesy BGR)
Funding is needed for BGR's work, but prayer is the most essential need of all. Ask the Lord to protect workers who are telling refugees about Christ.
"Pray that as partners talk with them about Jesus, they would understand the love of God," Kelly requests. Pray also that minds and hearts would be opened to the Truth of God's Word.
Find more about BGR's work around the world here.
USA (MNN) -- Who says you have to go overseas to be a part of global missions?
If that were true, many people who have a heart for missions would be disappointed to learn they couldn’t participate.
(Photo Courtesy of Global Aid Network)
Fortunately, ministries like Global Aid Network USA make it obvious that there are other ways to help people around the world and share the truth about God.
Recently, GAIN USA finished five days of packing goods at their Pennsylvania distribution center to meet needs in over 30 countries.
Steve Watson of GAIN USA says, "The main goal is to get volunteers involved: to show people that even if they can't go on a mission trip or travel overseas, they can be involved with missions right here at home."
Over the five days, GAIN USA received help from 3,100 volunteers, packed around 51,000 lbs of clothing, 120,000 meals of beans and rice, and 16,000 school supply kits.
While numbers don't exactly represent impact, they certainly give a tangible picture of the fruits gained by partnerships with GAIN USA.
And the impact on the groups who go there isn't something to be looked over, as Watson explains.
"Many have started at the distribution center...and then they've gone back and gotten their churches involved or school groups involved to help provide the aid that we ship.
"Many have gone on trips after coming to the distribution, so it's a good entry for people to find out what Global Aid Network does, how we're involved around the world, and how they can get more people involved."
Photo Courtesy of Global Aid Network
Throughout the day, volunteers take time to remember what it's all about. Watson says, 'Whenever we finish packing a pallet in a particular area, we'll stop everybody and pray over that pallet that's going out. [We] pray that God would get it into the hands of people who need it and that they would hear the Gospel when they get the aid that's packed up."
The ministry partners of GAIN USA who deliver the packages have opportunity to represent and share the love of Jesus Christ.
The level of openness about their discussions varies from country to country.
In more open countries, groups can have discussions about the Gospel of Jesus and even show the JESUS film."
Other times, it's not as easy.
"In a closed country, they don't have quite the open opportunity to share the Gospel," Watson explains. "But they do have the opportunity to build relationships with people. As they build relationships and people get to know them as human beings who care about them, then they do start asking that question, 'Why? Why do you care about me? Why are you bringing me this aid?' Then they get to share individually with people."
Either way, Watson says, "All of the aid goes with the Gospel. It just depends on the setting whether they get to openly proclaim it or it's more of a 'let's build relationship and share over time.'"
Watson works with the distribution remotely from the offices in Dallas. He looks forward to the packing project so that he can work alongside volunteers and employees that he doesn't see otherwise.
"What I love about the packing event is people come back time and time again," Watson says. He sees people who've gone on trips with GAIN USA and who volunteer and bring others along with them. "It's kind of like a reunion."
What is encouraging for Watson is seeing the hands raised when they ask how many people are first-timers. People who have been blessed by the experience return again inviting family, friends, and churches to get involved.
Registration for October's packing project doesn't open until September. In the meantime, you can stay updated with GAIN USA's other projects and pray alongside them.
Watson is really excited about Tony's Tour de Meals. Tony Fritz works in the distribution center, and in an effort to raise awareness and funds for food and shipping, he is riding his bike from the office Dallas to Pennsylvania's distribution center.
He leaves this morning, embarking on a trip of over 1,500 miles. Stay tuned for updates on Tony's Tour De Meals.
If you'd like to pledge to the bike ride, follow this link.
(Image courtesy ANA/worldprayr.org)
Asia (A2/MNN) -- Persecution is alive and well in Asia.
It's easy to forget when visiting a country and reveling in its exotic beauty. Asian Access' national leader are gracious and, says A2's vice president for leader development, Noel Becchetti, "I am often lulled into complacency as I visit with our A2 participants and hear about what God is doing in their area."
A2 leaders are being developed into a generation that is making disciples, planting churches, helping street children, working in the garbage dumps, establishing orphanages, and working with those suffering from human trafficking.
However, progress like this doesn’t come without resistance. There have been recent flare-ups of fear and resentment of the growth of the Church in Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and/or animistic areas. Another common denominator between these countries is one-party dictatorships that have replaced any semblance of representative government.
As these issues ebb and flow with events, political climate, and other things, so too does persecution.
(Image courtesy ANA/Godcall.net)
At least two of the countries where A2 has a presence are currently facing significant harassment and persecution. Becchetti explains why he didn't want to share the country names. "I’m getting paranoid enough that I’d rather not identify names, locations, or anything else that could compromise our brothers and sisters in these countries. God will, of course, know how and where to direct our prayers on their behalf."
Recent political events in one area where they're partnering have emboldened extremists from the historically-dominant religion of that country. After years of peace, Becchetti explains, "We had a bunch of pastors arrested out of the blue, being accused of doing illegal baptisms. On paper, they are illegal. This is a government that has written anti-conversion laws that do mandate jail terms for things like baptizing people, but those laws haven't been enforced for a number of years."
A2 leaders (along with other courageous Christian leaders in the area) went to the authorities on behalf of these pastors and got them released. But the situation remains tentative and very tense. "Our leaders just said, 'You've got to be praying. We're trying to figure out what happened and how to respond," Becchetti shares.
A second situation involved a well-regarded Christian educational institution. "Police have come in, and they're raiding Christian schools. They're arresting and beating up the faculty, the administration, and the students. They're trying to run them off." Becchetti notes that some students have quit the school and returned to their homes (likely the intent of the authorities), but the majority have chosen to stay and persevere in spite of the oppression.
Becchetti tried to contact a national director to get his thoughts on the aforementioned situation. The conversation was short. “Noel, these things you mention: I cannot talk about them. Do you understand?” He then immediately cut off the connection.
(Photo courtesy Asian Access)
For in-country leaders, things like this are taken largely in stride. "They just consider suffering part of the calling--for them. It's all in a day's work. We're all freaking out here in the West, and they're saying, 'Look: this is what we signed up for. This is what the Bible said was going to happen.'" What's more, Becchetti says, even if they're hauled off to jail, "They'll say things like 'this is great because we get opportunities to witness to the police that we otherwise wouldn't.'"
When asked how A2 is training these pastors to deal with the pressure of persecution, Becchetti demurred on that point. "Asian Access is able to provide an environment where these folks can get additional support. But honestly, we're not training them. They're training us in what it means to really 'walk the walk.'"
It's only going to intensify in the days ahead, according to these same leaders. Prayer is a huge encouragement. Becchetti says these are specific needs:
*Pray for peace and courage for these leaders and their families as they navigate an unknown and threatening future.
*Pray for a special hedge of protection upon the students, faculty, and administrators of this school as they stand firm in the face of direct physical persecution.
*Pray for A2 and other national leaders as they seek God’s wisdom for how to proceed.
The other is support. "Asian Access helps to try to sponsor pastors who are ministering in these countries because many of these situations, they're very poor countries. The pastors often make no money." Becchetti says it costs around $2500 to support a pastor and his family. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But this is where the beauty of the body of Christ comes in. "10 people at $20/month, and you've got it covered. 20 people at $10/month, and you've got it covered. A pastor could be sponsored for a whole year."
Stand with them. Click here to engage.
(Photo courtesy Vision Beyond Borders)
Asia (VBB) -- In Nepal and India, extreme poverty results in malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, and often deep spiritual depravity.
Little value is placed on women and girls in these countries where they are sold into sex slavery by members of their own families for as little as $10 USD, depending on their age and beauty.
They refer to themselves as "the walking dead" for they are without hope. Girls as young as 7 have been sold into slavery. These women and girls are confined in a room called "the cage" where they are beaten, starved, and raped until their will is broken. Then they are forced to service customers to repay their debt--a debt that incurs more in interest than they are paid for their services.
In those brothels, conditions are filthy and sickness is rampant. Girls who succumb to infection are turned out on the streets to die.
(Photo courtesy Vision Beyond Borders)
Vision Beyond Borders launched its Vision for Women to answer the growing crisis. The safe house they helped fund just 6 months ago is full, and more women are ready to come out of the industry.
A VBB contact working in one of these red-light districts recently shared, "We were able to rescue two girls. One is 17 and she is a Muslim; she has been involved in this business for a long time.”
Later, the ministry team received this update: "Thank you very much for your prayers. Today the Muslim girl accepted Jesus as her personal Savior…. She called her relatives and said, 'I have become a Christian. When I come back, I will tell you about this new life in Jesus.' She wants to rescue her younger sister who is in this business as well.”
VBB partners are in awe at how God is moving in the red-light districts and the fruit from the salon outreach. The vocational training program has been highly effective in ministering to the women and facilitating rescues.
(Photo courtesy Vision Beyond Borders)
They're hoping to invest in a new salon in a strategic location that will include ministry to children who are growing up in the red-light district. The total cost for this project is $83k. If you would like to join in this mission, please consider:
Praying! Giving! [Designate “Vision for Women Salon Project.”] Salon Supplies are also needed. Checks & supplies can be sent to: VBB, 100 Shepherd Trail, Unit 12, Bozeman, MT 59718. Going!
Improvements and awareness raised, but the work is not done. (Photo by Food for the Hungry)
International (FH/MNN) -- This year, 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than 25 years ago.
U.S. foreign assistance has played a leading role in achieving these results, dramatically improving children’s health and survival worldwide. Food for the Hungry (FH) is proud to work alongside USAID in its effort to end preventable child and maternal deaths in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
U.S. foreign assistance programs have helped cut in half the annual number of deaths of children under age 5 since 1990. In addition, diverse allies such as NGOs like FH, civic groups, faith and business communities, universities, and philanthropies have come together to leverage billions of private dollars for overseas health and development programs.
In Ethiopia, as part of a five-year development food aid program funded by USAID, FH is responding in vulnerable, chronically food-insecure areas with the aim to improve the health and nutritional status of women and children under 5 years.
Implementing well-tested, effective methods, FH has targeted more than 30,000 pregnant mothers and mothers with infants and more than 135,000 community members with a focus on improving their health and nutritional practices. The programs have also increased their access to nutritious food and clean water and improving household and community level sanitation practices.
In just two and a half years, considerable results have already been achieved.
“As a result of training and support, there has been a 25% increase in the number of mothers exclusively breastfeeding, resulting in 90% of all mothers utilizing this important practice,” said Craig Jaggers, FH/Ethiopia program director. “Of the surveyed households, the minimal accepted diet for children under 2 years was being met, as was not the case prior to program intervention.”
Other good work includes:
A higher percentage of households appropriately treating cases of childhood diarrhea.
With FH support, 70% of surveyed households were growing fruits and vegetables on their land for food and selling extra produce for income.
Access to clean water increased by 11% among households.
There was an 8% increase in households using improved sanitation facilities.
In Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), FH also is working to improve children’s nutrition. From 2011 to 2013, underweight children 0-59 months decreased from 26.5% to 17.5%. Children (6-23 months) who receiving an acceptable diet improved from 11.6% to 77.7%.
Despite these results, 6.6 million children under age 5 will not reach their birthdays this year, dying mainly from preventable diseases. Now is the time to re-commit our investments in life-saving programs, providing millions of children the opportunity to survive and thrive beyond their fifth birthday.
Is God burdening your heart with care for the children of the world? You can begin helping by asking Him where He wants you to get involved. Find opportunities at www.fh.org or www.5thbdayandbeyond.org.
Ukraine (MNN) -- If you knew $50 could help a family for a week physically and spiritually, would you contribute?
We're talking about the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and what some are calling pro-Russian separatists have left thousands homeless. According to reports, there are thousands of internally displaced people in Ukraine and more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees living in Russia. That could get worse.
On Friday, Ukraine signed a landmark trade deal to bind itself to the European Union. This is what caused the revolution in the first place.
Quoting Russian leaders, President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says, "This will bring grave consequences on Ukraine."
The country is bracing for more violence, which will cause even more people to be displaced. Rakhuba says it's bad. "Nobody can give us the exact number of how many refugees are there and how many displaced families. But we know this isn't thousands: this is dozens of thousands."
Roza is an elderly woman of very humble means who has received help from her Kiev church several times. However when she heard about the needs of refugees from Eastern Ukraine and the opportunity to help through the "I Care" program, she put together a food package that was so heavy that she needed help carrying it from the bus stop to the church. (Photo provided by Russian Ministries)
Churches partnering with Russian Ministries are doing something about the crisis. Rakhuba says, "We started a program called, I Care. And we want churches to give a food box, have food for an entire week, Scripture, and counseling and counseling materials."
It's all in an effort to share Christ with those who are suffering, on both sides of the conflict. Rakhuba says if successful, it will have long-lasting impact. "Peace will be restored, people can continue rebuilding their lives, continue building a free society where the Gospel will be one of the cornerstones for building their values on Christian values."
This conflict has created deep hatred for both sides of the conflict, says Rakhuba. "I see it as a huge demonic deception. It's warfare. People get disillusioned through all this. That's why we work through the church, so we can help them physically and spiritually."
Compassionate care is working to tear down barriers. "They see the practical service of evangelical believers. They open their pockets. They open their churches." Because of that, many are asking questions about Christ.
$100 can provide food for two families for one week, which provides Scripture and counseling at the same time. Go to http://www.Russian-Ministries.org to donate and make an eternal difference.
(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)
Iraq (ODM/MNN) -- Christians who sought refuge in the northern Iraqi city of Qaraqosh because of fighting in Mosul are on the run once again.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group extreme even by jihadi standards, tried to seize Qaraqosh Wednesday but were turned back by Kurdish troops. The city is located southeast of Mosul. Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra explains, "It's a Christian village. There were some bombings, and there were some Christians that were killed in those bombings. Many of those people have left town and found shelter in the northern part of Iraq."
About 40 families have now arrived in Erbil and found shelter in Ankawa. Meanwhile, Mosul's Christian population, which had declined from 30,000 to 3,000 in the years following the 2003 U.S. invasion, is now down to virtually nothing.
Dykstra says, "These attacks are becoming more and more frequent. Our field workers have contacts in this town and are providing people with vital supplies."
The occupation of the Iraqi city of Mosul by the violent extremist Muslims of ISIS forced up to 3000 Christian families out of their houses. Most of them fled to the safer North.
(Photo courtesy Open Doors USA)
A few days later, Open Doors started supporting these refugees with humanitarian aid through local churches and partner organizations.
Dykstra observes that it's a difficult situation, and it's growing worse with every passing day. "Christians are being squeezed at every point by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Shiites, Sunnis, the jihadists, especially in Syria, the Assad government, al-Qaeda."
Dykstra goes on to explain that "the goal of ISIS is to make a Caliphate State. That really means that they want to put into effect an Islamic State with Sharia law." The result: "Death; bodies on the street. Soldiers, policemen." This was what one of the refugees saw walking the streets of Mosul in the evening of June 9, the day ISIS took over the city. "There were lots of families walking, everyone was moving, it was crowded in the streets in the middle of the night," he explained to Open Doors.
The team of fieldworkers has been involved with persecution refugees from Mosul, Baghdad, and other areas. They are ready to respond, says Dykstra. "We have been working in the Kurdish area for many years mainly because most of the Christians from Baghdad and other areas have fled there. So we have many programs set up there for shelter, trauma counseling. When this happened, we were set up, ready to really stand in the gap."
(Mosul photo courtesy World Watch Monitor)
They share, “The immediate needs were very obvious: water and food. Many of the refugees were placed in schools or empty buildings. They were sleeping on a piece of cardboard, so mattresses and pillows were needed, too. And with temperatures reaching 45 degrees during the day, a third need made itself known: air coolers, especially important for families with young children or elderly.”
Open Doors supports poor Christian villages and churches through local partner organizations with the finances they need in order to be able to continue to act in this charitable spirit. The ministry encourages the Christians to also be open to serve non-Christians trying to find refuge in their area. Dykstra notes, "When we say 'be the light for all to show the love of Christ to their neighbors,' they have done that." Pray. "We need to take action. We cannot let them disappear from the Middle East. This would be a tragic situation."
Through the extensive network, Open Doors will continue to support refugees like this family. Soon Open Doors hopes to be able to support 2,000 families in 21 villages, even the most remote ones. With reports of an increasing persecution in Mosul, local Christians don’t know if they’ll ever be able to return to their houses safely: “It might have been the last time that Christians fled Mosul, as I expect that soon all Christians will have fled the city” shares a fieldworker.
DR (MNN) -- God is changing a community in Dominican Republic--one of the poorest--from the inside out.
Orphan's Heart has been working on transforming one of the poorest communities in the DR for about a year.Photo courtesy of Orphan's Heart)
For a year now, Orphan's Heart has worked to rebuild a community and share the love of Christ with them.
"We're really excited about all that's transpired over the last year," says Stephanie Shermeta of Orphan's Heart.
They have partnered with a Dominican construction crew to build houses for the community. They have seven completed, the construction of nine others started, and the foundations for 20 more houses poured.
They hope to have 21 houses complete by the end of July.
"We're pleased with where we are and looking forward to what God has in store for the remainder of this project," Shermeta says.
Along with these homes, Orphan's heart is working on a community transformation center that will house a church plant, ministry work, and life skills classes among other community events and resources. They hope to have that finished by the end of the summer.
But more than building homes, this ministry and their national partners are building into peoples lives.
Shermeta says, "What we really hope to see is people's lives radically transformed through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's our main goal is that this community will be a hope for family, it will be a light for Christ.
"We also wanted to help people out of that cycle of poverty. So that includes providing a safe place for them to live, helping with job training skills for dads to be able to provide for their families."
They also hope to provide a Christian centered daycare for single moms so that they can work during the day.
And the team is seeing the fruits of their hard work already.
"We're thankful for all the Lord is doing to work in the hearts and minds of the community members. Every week we're doing ministry work with the kids; every week we're doing Bibles studies. We are ministering to community members."
Shermeta stresses that the ministry they do is all in conjunction with their national ministry partners because they know the people and the culture.
"We see a God at work in people's lives," she says. "We see Him answering prayers and showing up, and we're very thankful for that. And I would add, if I may, that we covet people's prayers in that."
This summer, a bunch of teams from the United States are heading out of the country to work alongside Orphan's Heart.
"If people are interested in traveling to the Dominican Republic and serving on one of these teams and having the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ, please check out our calendar of upcoming trips on our Web site, Shermeta says.
"If you want to go and minister, this is a wonderful community to minister. The people want to hear the Gospel; they're intrigued, they're listening, and so we need people to come and share."
Wondering if this is for you? According to Shermeta, this trip could be life-changing: "This is a great opportunity for you to go to see how the rest of the world lives--to help, but also come back with a changed worldview and be able to share with your friends and families about what God is doing in other countries, the needs that are there, and how we might help."
If you have questions about the work being done in the Dominican Republic, call Orphan's Heart at 863-577-4488 or click here to visit their Web site.
Russian Orthodox Church in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Wikimedia commons: http://goo.gl/hr6lO2)
North Korea (MNN) -- South Korea is asking for the release of a Baptist Missionary.
According to CBN news, Kim Jung Wook of South Korea received a life sentence to a hard labor camp.
He was accused and charged with trying to set up underground churches and committing acts that undermined the regime. They claimed he was spying for South Korea when he entered the country last October.
Christian Post says that Kim was captured when he tried to enter the country to find out about food shortage and 12 North Korean women he had previously helped escape the country.
Recently, Kim "admitted" to committing religious acts and "malignantly hurting the dignity" of the government.
South Korea says that Kim is not working as a spy for them and that his punishment is too harsh.
According to The New York Times, North Korea has ignored South Korea's demands to release Kim.
His lawyers called for leniency because of his confession, reducing his sentence from execution to life in the labor camp.
This is the strongest sentence given to Christian missionaries in recent years, and some sources say it is in line with North Korea's attempts to step up their guard against outside harmful influences.
While North Korea claims religious freedom, missionary work and Bible distribution is punishable by banishment, labor camp, and execution.
Meanwhile, American Christian Kenneth Bae is serving his 15-year labor camp sentence. Christian Post says he is the longest-serving American detainee since 1953.
Please pray that these Christians may be granted peace, but above all, pray that they will stay strong in their convictions and be a light for Christ in the dark world around them.
More stories about North Korea here.
Indonesia (CAM/MNN) -- How do you share the Gospel with a Muslim in Indonesia? Start a duck project.
Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, helps missionaries in this Islamic nation buy ducks. As they sell the eggs in the local market, doors open for conversations about Jesus Christ.
Village church planters with Yesus Kristus Mission often raise ducks to earn a living and become part of a community. A mere $20 USD can help a church planter launch a duck project with 100 ducklings.
Help indigenous missionaries start the venture here.
Missionaries also reach out to Indonesian women using sewing machines. Yesus Kristus Mission is giving 40 sewing machines to the wives of Gospel workers. This way, the women can sell or repair clothing to bring in additional income.
It also affords them an opportunity to speak with other women about the Lord. The machines are provided by gifts to Christian Aid's Prayerline ministry.
Pray that thousands of villagers will hear about Christ's salvation through these unique ministries. Pray that more doors are opened for Gospel growth in Indonesia.
Indonesia is an archipelago with 13,000 islands split into 33 provinces. Islam is the dominant religion, and indigenous missionaries struggle against radical sects who want to advance a strict interpretation, such as Sharia.
Open Doors USA puts Indonesia at #47 on their World Watch List, a ranking of 50 nations where persecution is the worst. Radical Muslims reportedly cause the most trouble for Christians, as they steer public opinion. Sometimes Muslim-background believers (MBBs) have to flee their homes, and they face physical abuse on a regular basis.
See how you can pray for Muslims during their holiest month, Ramadan, which begins tomorrow.
USA (MNN) -- You may remember Children's Bible Hour with Uncle Charlie. It morphed into CBH Ministries and Down Gilead Lane. Now, it's taken on a new name and has some pretty big plans. Keys For Kids Ministries plans to reach kids 24/7.
Executive Director of Keys For Kids Ministries Terre Richie describes what they did. "We did add a ministry logo for our publishing division and also our internet radio division that used to be called--something you're familiar with--His Kids Radio. It is now called Keys for Kids Radio, or KFKR, as we like to call it, and we hope to have it running this fall."
Keys For Kids will continue publishing their devotional for kids. You can get a copy at http://www.KeysForKids.org. You can also listen to the feature each day.
Richie says in addition, full-time radio for kids is also planned. "It's internet radio right now. We haven't even gotten into the particulars of having our first brain-storming meeting about it, so we're hoping to answer a lot of those questions and get this thing on the road."
Radio will also help foster discipleship. "We're going to connect Keys for Kids Radio to our online Bible study called, IToadYou.com. That's toad, t-o-a-d: IToadYou.com. We have 36 Bible lessons up there that kids can go through."
But that's not all. Kids For Kids just started something new. "We just started a brand new radio drama called, Red Rock Mysteries. That started on the air on May 3. We're getting a lot of comments on that. It's adapted from a book series from Chris Fabry," says Richie.
On top of all that, Kids For Kids has just moved to a new building.
While Richie is encouraging you to pray for all of these new initiatives, none of them can happen without your financial support. "We're needing $150,000. Right now we only have $16,000 of that. We've just really worked to get [the Gospel] to kids in as many avenues as possible. We're just praying that the Lord will use every single one of those to glorify Himself."
Click here to support Keys for Kids with your best gift.
(Photo courtesy Open Doors)
Malaysia (ODM) -- On 23 June, Malaysia’s highest court refused the Church’s request to challenge a court verdict that banned the word Allah, or God, from being used in its publication, The Herald Weekly.
The dispute began in 2008 when the newsletter was banned by the Home Ministry of Malaysia from using the word. The Catholic Church contested the rule and won back its constitutional right in 2009, only to lose it again after the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in October 2013.
In several states, Christians are prohibited from using over 30 Arabic words outside the Muslim context. Nine of those words, including Allah, are found in local language Bibles. They are mainly used by believers in East Malaysia, who make up two-thirds of the Christian population.
(Image courtesy Open Doors)
Although “extremely disappointed,” the Christian Federation of Malaysia (NECF) wrote in its media statement that it considered the court decision “as being confined to the specific facts of that particular case, and otherwise maintain that the Christian community continues to have the right to use the word Allah in its Bibles, church services, and Christian gatherings in its on-going ministry to Bahasa Malaysia-speaking congregations, as it has done all this while.”
Please pray that the Christian community in Malaysia will remain steadfast in its faith and courageous in the face of prolonged adversity.
Ukraine's President signs an EU agreement tomorrow.
Ukraine (MNN) -- It's another big week for Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko is set to sign an EU agreement tomorrow. Pro-Russian separatists broke a ceasefire with the Ukrainian government days after it began. And, the West is yet again threatening Russia with sanctions for provoking violence in eastern Ukraine.
Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association says Ukrainian Christians still have a glimmer of hope, though. Evangelical leaders sent an encouraging note to SGA about a June 11 prayer breakfast in Kiev.
"On one hand, while you had [in] eastern Ukraine all the shooting and violence going on, in the capital of Kiev in the Parliament Building you had politicians and government leaders coming in prayer to God, praying for peace," says Griffith. "They're wanting this now to become a tradition, as it has among legislatures in Western nations."
Peace in Ukraine has been a distant reality since November 2013.
An EU trade agreement was at the center of protests which began peacefully in Kiev at the end of 2013 and quickly escalated, leading to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych. The expelled leader sought refuge in Russia, which annexed Crimea in March.
As President Poroshenko prepares to make the Ukraine-EU relationship official tomorrow, Griffith says divides could deepen.
"I think it's going to continue to cause some tension between Russia and Ukraine," he shares.
Georgia and Moldova are moving in the same direction: they're also signing political and trade agreements with the EU tomorrow. Russia considers those nations part of their Soviet regime, and their alliance with the EU "certainly might have the potential to fuel even further conflict," Griffith notes.
Satellite imagery of church where separatists kidnapped 3 believers in eastern Ukraine.(Photo credit: Ukraine@war.blogspot.com)
Violence in eastern Ukraine
Meanwhile, conflict is nonstop in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists shot down a government helicopter on Tuesday after agreeing to a ceasefire a few days prior.
"It's really a disturbing situation to watch," Griffith notes. May's inauguration of Ukraine's new president brought hope that the conflict would soon be resolved.
"Instead, what we've seen is a continual flare-up of violence."
According to Russian state media, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently made a request to Parliament to withdraw permission for intervention in Ukraine. But Western leaders have their doubts.
"Regardless of what gets verbally said out of Moscow, I think many [Western leaders] are blaming Russia for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine," Griffith says.
It doesn't seem like things will improve anytime soon, he adds.
"That certainly makes what the churches are doing to try to proclaim the peace of the Gospel all the more important."
Crisis Evangelism Fund
Continual flare-ups of violence are driving families from the battle zone into western Ukraine. Churches in this region are acting as the hands of Christ, caring for refugees' physical and spiritual needs. Since church finances and resources are stretched incredibly thin, SGA is coming alongside to help.
"We instituted what we're calling the Crisis Evangelism Fund to help the churches reach out to the people that are affected by this crisis," Griffith explains.
The fund helps Ukrainian churches in a number of ways. It provides resources for needy families in the church, gives food parcels and Christian literature to refugees, and helps missionary pastors who live in conflict zones.
Help refugees in Ukraine through SGA's Crisis Evangelism Fund.
Please continue to pray for Ukraine.(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)
Lastly, but most importantly, please keep Ukraine in your prayers. "Pray that this crisis would soon be resolved," Griffith requests.
"Pray for peace and stability to be restored, not only in the eastern regions where the conflict is raging, but also the country as a whole."
(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)
Papua New Guinea (WAS/MNN) -- The Sepik River region is one of the more exotic locations in Papua New Guinea.
Its culture today connects Japan and Germany to the indigenous people groups, creating a unique but isolated society. One of the wildest regions in the world, dense jungles and mountains isolate people groups and make travel in the area extremely difficult. Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, describes the people this way: "They're essentially the 'least of these.' They're the people that are forgotten and overlooked because of the size of their language groups. The size of their communities is increasingly small. In this particular region, the Sepik River region in the northwest, there are more than 100 languages that have not one verse of Scripture."
Wycliffe Associates, a global organization that involves people in the acceleration of Bible translation around the world, is helping launch the Sepik Initiative. Smith says, "This is the largest unified strategy that I'm aware of in the world, to launch these languages simultaneously. There are still quite a few major hurdles to getting to that point just because of the isolation."
It means turning things upside down in some places. "Even the tribal animosities that have historically been between them--getting them to collaborate because of their common faith and because of their desire God's Word in their area--is a threshold we need to encourage them to cross in order for this kind of a strategy to succeed."
Approximately 12% of the world's languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, which occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific. Its 838 living languages are spoken in an area roughly the size of France, with almost 100 languages currently being spoken in the Sepik River region alone.
(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)
Translations done side-by-side are just not as efficient as cluster translation work, Smith adds. "It's not getting Scripture fast enough to the people that urgently want it. So getting started in all of these languages together enables training to be consolidated, enables other resources to be consolidated, and enables learning to 'cross-pollinate' one another in related languages so that they can move forward more quickly."
People are hungry for the truth and hope of God’s Word, Smith explains. "We're working along with other partners, including Papua New Guinean translators who have experience in this area and cultural connections to this area, so the timeline is right now."
Wycliffe Associates is currently raising $153,000 for the Sepik Initiative, which will "give the initial training launch and get the initial computer hardware, software, internet connectivity, those kind of technical things in place so that the translation teams can get out of the gate," says Smith.
"For decades, the people in the Sepik Region have been waiting,” Smith says. “But time is passing quickly for this generation. I believe that story-by-story, Scripture-by-Scripture, word-by-word, God’s plan of love and redemption can touch this entire region.”
Click here for more details on the Sepik Region Initiative.