(Image courtesy Christian Aid Mission)
China (CAM) -- Crosses have been forcibly removed from the rooftops of hundreds of registered churches in one eastern province in China, and more are coming down each month. Why the sudden crackdown?
During the past six months, one aggrieved congregation after another has watched helplessly as construction cranes yank the cross from atop churches in Zhejiang Province.
Chinese authorities defend their actions, claiming they are cracking down on “illegal constructions” of buildings, both commercial and religious. Christians have a different view, however, and fear the government is underhandedly trying to curb the rapid growth of churches in the region.
The assistant director for the China Division at Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, was in the country visiting ministry leaders when news broke of the anti-cross campaign. That was in the spring, when 64 crosses were removed and demolished. In June the number of destroyed crosses doubled. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), now more than 360 churches have been targeted. Chinese authorities are threatening to demolish entire church buildings if congregants refuse to remove the public displays of their religion.
“When I was in China, the church leaders I talked to were very nervous about what was happening. They were concerned that the government was not upholding its own constitution regarding religious freedom,” said the Christian Aid worker. “They advised Chinese believers to be cautious and not take part in protests that might make the situation worse. They were praying that the crackdown would not spread to other parts of China.”
Last week, one congregation made international news when they did decide to take a stand. On July 21, a crowd of some 1,000 Christians formed a human blockade around ShuiTou Salvation Church outside the city of Wenzhou. It was the 32nd night in a row in which the congregation held a vigil to guard their church’s cross.
Around 3 a.m. local time, 400 police officers attempted to remove the cross by force and beat some of the Christians with iron batons, ICC reported on their Web site. After a one-hour attack, the police retreated, unable to accomplish their purpose.
The cross controversy began last October when the communist provincial secretary visited Wenzhou and saw crosses prominently positioned atop spires and domes on registered churches. The city is considered the Christian hub of China and is sometimes described as the “Jerusalem of the East.”
What seemed most incongruous to him, however, was the $5.5 million, multi-story Sanjiang Church perched on a hillside next to a freeway.
The secretary said the cross on the church was “too high” and “too conspicuous.” Furthermore, he claimed the building itself was illegal and violated codes.
“The media has reported that a year ago, the Sanjiang Church building was praised by local officials. It was a landmark in Wenzhou, and people were proud of it,” said the Christian Aid spokesman.
“But the church was very visible, with a big cross. The government also said it was five times larger than the approved size of 20,000 square feet.”
In March, the government increased pressure, stating if the cross was not removed and most of an auxiliary building torn down, the entire church would be demolished.
The church was asked to “self-rectify” by April 22, but only 5,382 square feet of the structure was torn down by the deadline. Church members refused to lower or remove the cross.
About 3,000 people peacefully occupied the church in shifts, inside and outside, to prevent a demolition. Their valiant efforts were not successful, however, as the Three-Self church was destroyed April 28.
Making a statement?
Located in eastern China across the sea from Taiwan, Zhejiang Province is known for its affluence and has many wealthy entrepreneurs. Christian businessmen and professionals are among those who are enjoying the prosperity. Blessed with abundant resources, these congregations can afford physically impressive buildings like the Sanjiang mega-church. Many of these churches have large crosses prominently placed so that they tower over the surrounding landscape.
Some have argued that the believers in Wenzhou have inadvertently antagonized the government by making perhaps too bold a proclamation of their faith. Too much emphasis has been made on church buildings, they say, and not enough on building up God’s true Church--His followers.
The Christian Aid spokesman points out that the government did not order the churches to dispose of crosses altogether. What Christians were mandated to do was reduce the size of the crosses and move them indoors.
“I think when the provincial secretary came to Wenzhou, he saw all of those crosses. He saw the monumental Sanjiang Church by the freeway. He didn’t like the way Christianity was so visible,” the spokesman said.
The government insists it is clearing illegal structures throughout Zhejiang Province for urban renewal projects and is not singling out Christian-owned buildings. In Wenzhou alone, 32 million square feet of buildings--mostly commercial properties--have been demolished in the last year.
However, the issue remains:why officials would zero in on removing crosses. Are these religious icons in violation of a building code, or are they an advertisement for Christianity that officials feel they can no longer tolerate?
Frustrated by the battle of wills, Chinese church leaders have expressed their view that it is the government which is trying to make a statement. Under the guise of enforcing zoning laws, they believe the authorities are seizing opportunities to place a choke-hold on Christianity’s presence in the province.
A nine-page internal government document obtained by the New York Times states Chinese provincial leaders seek to regulate “excessive religious sites” and remove crosses from rooftops and “on both sides of expressways, national highways, and provincial highways.”
So is the cross removal an all-out anti-Christian campaign? “Probably not,” the Christian Aid spokesman responded, given that the Chinese government wants to be more progressive regarding human rights than in times past. They would also be violating their own constitution, which provides for religious freedom, but with restrictions on the location and types of activities that worship entails.
Symbol vs. true faith
Echoing the sentiments Chinese ministry leaders shared with him, the Christian Aid spokesman said it is important to make a distinction between man-made representations of our faith and the genuine worship of Christ.
“As Christians, we don’t worship a symbol of our faith or an idol. We worship a living God,” he said. “For true believers, what matters is our spiritual walk with the Lord and the cross that abides in our hearts.
“Yes, we are called to ‘take up the cross and die to ourselves.’ But Christ never called us to die for an outward structure,” he continued. “It’s another matter, though, if we are asked to deny our Lord. He is the One Who is worth dying for.”
No one knows how far the government will go with its cross-removal initiative. Christian Aid does not provide financial help to any of the affected churches in Zhejiang Province, as these congregations are all self-supporting. There are concerns, however, that government action taken against churches in one province may inspire copycat changes in other areas of the country.
“Only time will tell,” the ministry spokesman said. “What we can do is pray that the action by the government in this province is not the start of a wider crackdown on Christianity in China. Pray for the steadfast faith of believers in China, and that they will continue to do the Lord’s work in their country.”
Christian Aid has assisted indigenous ministries in China for 28 years by helping to establish Bible schools that train missionaries and church leaders, planting and fostering the growth of churches, and meeting the needs of orphans and impoverished rural communities.
(Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse)
Liberia (MNN) -- A Samaritan's Purse physician is giving the term "hero" a new definition.
“Yesterday, an experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”
Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are in stable but grave condition. Dr. Brantly took a slight turn for the worse overnight. But even as he battles to survive Ebola, this heroic doctor is still focused on the well-being of others.
(Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse)
The safety of missions staff is a top priority, and Samaritan’s Purse is currently working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home countries. The evacuation should be completed this weekend. The exact timeline and destinations are being kept confidential to respect their privacy. Samaritan’s Purse is taking precautions that exceed the standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
None of the evacuating staff are ill, and the World Health Organization and CDC continue to reiterate that people are not contagious unless they begin showing symptoms. Following their evacuation, Samaritan’s Purse will work with staff to monitor their health.
Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse
Please continue to pray for Kent and Nancy, for all those who are affected by Ebola, and for the tremendous group of doctors and nurses who are caring for them.
Dr. Brantly, a Family Practice physician, was serving in Liberia through the Samaritan’s Purse post-residency program before joining the medical team responding to the Ebola crisis. His wife and two children had been living with him in Liberia but flew home to the U.S. before he started showing any signs of illness.
Last week, Dr. Brantly recognized that he had symptoms associated with Ebola, and he immediately isolated himself.
Writebol works with SIM, which manages ELWA Hospital. SIM and Samaritan’s Purse have been working closely to combat Ebola since the current outbreak began in Liberia in March. She had been working as a hygienist who decontaminated those entering and leaving the isolation ward of the Case Management Center at the hospital. She is married with two children.
Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse
“Their heroic and sacrificial service--along with the entire team there--is a shining example of Christ’s love in this crisis situation,” Graham said.
The two cases underscore the seriousness of the horrific outbreak that is spreading throughout Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and infecting hundreds of people at an unprecedented rate. The deadly disease, which causes massive internal bleeding and has a mortality rate of 60%-90% in most situations, has claimed more than 670 lives.
Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse
In the span of 32 years (1976-2008), the Ebola virus infected 2,232 people in remote village areas and killed 1,503. Just since early this year, the mortality rate has already claimed nearly a third of those fatalities as it has infiltrated three capital cities with populations in the millions.
Dr. Brantly completed his residency in family medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, before joining the post-residency program.
“There’s an incredible level of braveness in Kent,” Robert Earley, president and CEO of JPS Health Network, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “You don’t meet people like this every day.”
Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse
(Image by MOSES Inc.)
Mexico (MNN) -- Vacation Bible School (VBS) isn't just an American tradition. Nor is it something that only American's can be involved with.
One of the trips MOSES Inc. takes every summer is to Ensenada, Mexico. This peer-led mission trip focuses on VBS and house building (read more about this year's trip here).
But before the trip begins, the church leaders have to have a plan for what they will teach. This is why an indigenous-led, three-day conference is so important in kicking off the summer Bible club successfully.
For the past 14 years, MOSES has assisted at the training conference.
This year was no different. A young lady "went down a week ahead of time with another adult leader to assist with the conference that we do each year...for local church leaders to come and learn the Vacation Bible School program for the summer," says Judy VanderArk of MOSES.
This year, 125 churches were represented by over 400 people.
"We've been doing that for 14 years now, and each year it increases in attendance and new churches come. It's entirely led by the indigenous church leaders," VanderArk explains.
The 3-day conference had over 100 volunteers demonstrating how to conduct VBS.
If you're already involved in VBS instruction, this may be something you want to consider. The conference itself requires people who are bilingual to help. For the VBS classes, you can check here for upcoming trips next summer.
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Michel Agius)
Libya (MNN) -- A failed state is a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a self-determining government.
Somalia comes to mind when using that terminology, and now, another country comes to mind. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "You have a very weak government. You have different militant groups that are controlling different parts of the country. There's fighting between them for power and for control of territory. In that sense, Libya and Somalia look a lot alike."
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/USA Embassy)
Libya is being torn apart by its deadliest fighting since the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. His removal created a power vacuum, and without a democratically-elected government to replace the dictator, pushed the country to the brink of becoming a "failed state," explains Nettleton. "What is happening is a huge power struggle between different militant groups, militia groups inside Libya. The fighting is ongoing. It has now forced the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy as well as some other Western embassies." Newly-elected lawmakers struggled to find a safe location for their first sitting of the House of Representatives, held on 28 July.
He says a big difference between Somalia and Libya are the resources. However, violence in the oil-rich country threatens to destabilize the region. "We're looking at a situation where nobody is really in control, and there are a lot of people who are fighting for control or for power. It's running down into becoming a war zone." Of the militias filling the void, only some have Islamist ideologies, adds Nettleton. "The good news is: right now the different groups are focusing more on each other and trying to gain control of the country. They're not focused specifically on persecuting Christians or persecuting minority groups or stopping evangelism from happening."
Persecution of the Church
(Image courtesy WLS via Facebook)
This is one of the most difficult North African countries in which to be a Christian, notes Open Doors. In an absence of the rule of law, violence against Christians has increased. Nettleton observes, "One of the impacts is simply that a lot of the Gospel workers from outside the country have had to leave or will have to leave if this instability and violence continues." Among Libyan believers, he says, "Just living becomes a challenge, let alone the issue of 'how are we to reach out to our neighbors?' Or, 'How am I going to share the gospel with my Muslim friends/my Muslim family?'"
Most Christians are afraid to meet with other believers, as any kind of non-Islamic religious gathering for Libyans is forbidden. Ex-pats can have their own churches, but Libyans are not allowed to attend.
Nettleton urges you to stand with the remnant Church in Libya. "Pray for the protection of the believers there, that God would sustain them, that He would protect them and watch over them. Pray for opportunities to witness because there is upheaval, there is violence. That can be an opportunity to say, 'Let's talk about eternity.'"
(Photo credit: Zoriah via Flickr)
India (MNN) -- Contracting HIV/AIDS isn't just a literal death sentence for women trapped in India's sex trade. It's also the death of every relationship they have, says Gary Bishop of Far Corners Missions.
"Literally no one wants [infected women] around. They can't go back to their families; they can't go back to their villages," says Bishop.
"They need somebody to love them, and that's exactly what Jesus would do."
That's why Far Corners is transforming part of their leprosy hospital into a hospice home for HIV/AIDS victims.
"They are given a place of security and a place where somebody's going to love them and care for them. They get to hear the Gospel," Bishop adds. "In some cases, they become believers."
Right now, Far Corners' center is caring for six women. "Everything in their surrounding now is attributed to the love of Jesus," Bishop explains.
The women aren't just learning about Christ and the eternal value of a relationship with Him. Their personal value is being redeemed, too.
"The most detrimental thing, perhaps, in a woman's life is that she no longer has any self-worth," notes Bishop.
When former prostitutes come to the leprosy hospital/hospice center, Far Corners workers shower the love of Christ upon them abundantly. They treat the women as people, instead of as slaves or animals. They tell the women about a Savior who loves them so much He died to pay for their sins.
"They come to us with deep, deep grief in their lives. They have literally lost everything," reiterates Bishop. But, with time and the love shown by believers, these women regain a sense of dignity.
While Far Corners has been rescuing women and young girls out of India's brothels for over 40 years, converting the leprosy hospital to a hospice center is a recent development. In order to expand this ministry, they need your help.
The women "have to have medication every month, they have to have hospice care--special care, depending on how sick they are," Bishop shares.
"We ask our listeners to consider this and join us in this great cause to care for these women, if God puts that on their heart."
Click here to support this part of Far Corners' ministry.
AIDS Awareness ribbon(Photo credit: sassy mom via Flickr)
"It takes about $60 a month for us to address all the needs that they have, which [is] everything from clothing to food to medicine, and a place to live."
Pray that more women stuck in brothels will escape and discover God's love for them. Pray that the resources needed for expansion are provided so Far Corners can care for more women.
"Pray for us as we grow this ministry, as we reach out to more and more women," asks Bishop.
"It takes us time to get the facilities ready, and we're looking at about $20,000 to remodel and change facilities."
More from Far Corners here.
Exploding shells are destroying homes and churches in the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian rebels have been battling for control since March.(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
Ukraine (MNN) -- Ukraine unrest continues as international investigators declare the MH17 crash zone unsafe for examination. Today is the fifth day investigators have been unable to investigate the crash due to fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine's government.
At the same time, Ukraine's government has a strategic town from rebels near Donetsk. But, the victory wasn't without cost. Officials told the BBC yesterday that 19 people had been killed in government-separatist fighting over a span of 24 hours.
All of the unrest is driving more and more families west to Kiev in pursuit of safety and shelter. EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response says God is using that hunt for temporary salvation to point out a bigger need: the need for eternal salvation.
One of ReachGlobal's associates in Kiev is Orthodox priest Father Nicolay and The Logos Center. The facility is now providing shelter for over 170 people who fled violence in eastern Ukraine.
"We got used to hearing the shots and hiding under babushka's table," one four-year-old girl described to a Logos worker.
Some of the 100+ refugees cared for at The Logos Center.(Image courtesy EFCA)
The Logos Center is providing for all refugees needs: shelter, food and water, medical, spiritual. As they build relationships with displaced families, ReachGlobal missionaries gain an opportunity to tell refugees about Jesus Christ and His love.
"It's time for me to get right with the Lord," one woman told a center worker, following a particularly difficult interview with the press.
Can you help ReachGlobal and The Logos Center continue caring for displaced families? The center's first floor was remodeled to accommodate the initial influx of refugees. However, there hasn't been time or finances since then to finish the rest of the renovations.
Send financial support for this project here.
A fence is needed around the property to keep children safe while they're playing outside. The center's sewer system has been pushed to the limit--the facility is designed to accommodate 40 people at a time--and needs to be replaced. Finally, more space is needed for the center's medical ministry.
"Right or wrong, we don't wait until we have the facility finished; we address the need that's there," says ReachGlobal missionary Pam Dandre.
"It takes a lot of faith to believe that God is going to provide for the need that we've already started working on."
(Photo cred: Katey Hearth, Starfysh)
Haiti (MNN) -- Most people probably know someone with an entitlement attitude--a person who holds an "it's-my-right-to-have-this" or "it's-your-job-to-solve-my-problems" perspective on all aspects of life. Entitlement attitudes are prevalent in many areas of Haiti due, in large part, to continual hand-outs from charities.
"When you mention things like repaying loans and giving a tithe of their profit back into the community…these actions teach them that they can be a blessing to others, that they need to look out for others," shares Joseph Richter of FARMS International.
"This is what always excited me about FARMS: the stewardship principles that are the base of the ministry."
Churches in Cap Haitian and Boco are working with FARMS to introduce a different way of thinking.
"We've seen over and over again the pride people have and the dignity, when they become a blessing to others and not just a receiver of someone's charity," says Richter.
FARMS International equips families in poverty around the world with the means for self-support. Working through the local church, FARMS provides loans, technical support for income-generating projects, and spiritual training for families. Loans are repaid to a revolving fund, and recipients agree to tithe to their local church.
"One thing that I've noticed in all of our programs around the world, but now [particularly] in Haiti, is the help they give to ladies that are widows and have children," Richter shares. Church committees "search out widows that are really in need and that need the special help from FARMS."
A Cap Haitian widow named Madame Sol recently shared her story with Richter.
"Her husband had passed away some time ago, and she had to totally support her daughter and two boys," he recounts.
A roadside market near Port-au-Prince, Haiti.(Photo cred: Katey Hearth)
With a FARMS microloan, Madame Sol was able to start her own business making fruit preserves and peanut butter. Along with selling her products in the local area, she ships them as far as Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city.
"She worked very hard at this business, even though she was a part-time teacher," shares Richter. "All of her three children have now gone to college, which is no small feat for a widow in Haiti.
"She said her committee had taught her about tithing, and she regularly supported her church. She felt that that's why God had blessed her so much."
Widows aren't the only ones benefiting from FARMS' help. Listen to the interview to hear how microloans have resulted in exponential church growth.
"They keep expanding; they even have a Christian school that's run through the church," says Richter. "The people are very excited and happy for the FARMS program and what it's done for their church, and their families."
There are a few ways you can get involved in business-as-missions through FARMS.
"Certainly, any ministry like this needs people to pray for it," Richter observes.
Pray that FARMS committees will be faithful and that the people receiving loans will be blessed. Pray that increased giving in the local churches will result in more evangelistic outreaches.
You can also help FARMS with financial support here.
Read more business-as-missions stories.
Middle East (SAT-7/MNN) -- Bridges is a current affairs program produced by SAT-7 Egypt, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. It has been at the heart of helping viewers to understand complex situations in the Middle East and North Africa region and how they might be tackled. Earlier this year, Syria was a main focus, producing children’s shows which featured refugees from the conflict. Program Manager George Makeen explains that two episodes, aired earlier this month, examined some underlying tensions in Iraq and the expansion of ISIS with guest Iraqi politicians and public figures.
Recently, the program’s main focus switched to the Hamas-Israel conflict. Saturday, July 26th, Bridges considered the implications of the expulsion of Christians under threat of death from Mosul. Makeen describes it as “a very dangerous development for the region”.
SAT-7 is watched not only by Christians, but also by others. The channel gives the Middle Eastern and North African Church a platform to speak to other communities.
“We are urging moderate Muslims--the majority in the Arab world--to see that when you let extremists eliminate one group in society, the circle does not stop there,” Makeen says. “Eventually, they will turn on other Muslims to persecute those who are different.”
(Photo Courtesy of SAT-7)
Makeen stresses, “We are not only opposing persecution of Christians. Christian ethics make it a must for us to speak about injustice regardless of who the victim is.”
“Defending Christians also is critical for the future of the region as a whole,” he says. “The Middle East cannot prosper and be free without allowing diversity.”
As far as Gaza is concerned, Bridges looked first at explaining diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire. Then it took on the task of confronting the dominant position in Egyptian media, this opinion being to convince citizens that Gaza is not worth worrying about because “Hamas is the one killing our army officers.” Instead, Bridges drew a line between Gaza’s political leadership and its “many innocents” who deserve justice and protection. SAT-7 CEO Dr. Ascott recently commented on the role of thousands of Christians living in Gaza. Click here to see his statement.
“The overall impact of such sad news from Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and, of course, Syria is that viewers lose hope and need a voice to reflect their confusion,” Makeen says.
"SAT-7 seeks to point our audience to God, who is all-powerful, who feels their pain, and who is working to bring about His Kingdom even when this seems hidden from us."
Bridges Prayer, as aired on SAT-7:
To you, O God, we pray
To you we acknowledge our vulnerability, despair and confusion.
O Lord, we are tired of the injustice and blood,
Of the rape of the weak and the poor and the daily killing of innocents.
We see our weakness as we witness evil control new land daily, and we have nothing to stop it.
We are confused when we cry out in prayer for one country, then find more victims falling in another one.
We are tired of repeating the words of despair,
Of screaming and no-one answers,
Tired of cruelty that grows uglier every day,
Of seeing the oppressed crushed.
Tired of the cry of despairing mothers embracing their children for the last time,
Tired from the dread of young children who find no refuge from fear,
The young despair of today and tomorrow, and some of even of Your mercy.
Men are confused and powerless against injustice.
How long, O Lord?
How long, O Lord, shall we call upon You when You do not hear? How long shall we cry at injustice and You do not banish it?
Show us Your mercy and Your power, and do not leave us in despair
Do not let the voice of truth and justice in us become mute in the face of injustice.
Make us witnesses of Your righteousness and mercy, and light in the face of darkness
Hear us that we may see the light of Your wisdom
Restore our faith and hope, and make us witnesses to the people,
Want to make a difference? Your gift of $10 supports 10 viewers for 1 year! Click here to give now!
How can you help protect women and girls from a life where they're told they're without value?(Photo courtesy of Vision Beyond Borders)
Southeast Asia (MNN) -- What was the hardest thing you've ever forgiven someone for? Some girls in Southeast Asia are choosing to forgive family members for selling them into human trafficking.
Vision Beyond Borders is establishing bonds with women in Southeast Asia to release them from the bonds of prostitution.
VBB recently opened a safe house in conjunction with their salon in a red-light district.
Dyann Romeijn of VBB says, "Within six months of opening the safe house, it's completely full. And there are five new women already that are ready to come out in the next several weeks. And then there are literally hundreds that are ready to come out but just need to have an opportunity to do that."
The women not only need the right logistics to get out of prostitution, they need a chance to identify the bonds that keep them there.
So, why do these women stay in the red-light districts? And even before that, why are they there in the first place?
1. Culturally defined value
The women are told from a young age that they are not very valuable, and so it's not such a stretch for them to support themselves with work that exploits them in the worst way.
Romeijn says, "The women in their culture are not revered anyway. And then if they're in lower caste systems, it's even worse."
This lack of value ascribed to them undergirds other reasons women find themselves working as prostitutes.
VBB reports that many times women are sold by friends and family. The women become "property" of a brothel owner until they've sold themselves enough times to pay their "debt."
The women are betrayed by those who they're supposed to trust most. Their family values the money they make selling the girl into prostitution over the girl herself.
That's right. Religion is often used as an excuse to abuse and manipulate women in this culture. Many times women are convinced that their involvement in the sex trade is a service to their gods. In fact in some cases, girls are dedicated to a god at a young age.
And on the flip side, some believe themselves to be reincarnated to this life because of sins committed in their past life.
Romeijn explains that sometimes men abuse women in the temples, telling the women that in the temple, being used by them is actually an act with the gods.
And many times, it's as simple as money. Women, especially those abandoned by husbands and left to provide for their children, choose prostitution as a way to provide for themselves and their family.
They don't know any other way to make money because they lack skills. Other times men or "bosses" offer them a "better" life than the work they're already doing. That life turns out to be one of prostitution.
Because these women have been tricked and told by society that they are worthless, it takes more than removing them from the situation for them to be healed and on their way to a truly better life.
Romeijn says, "It's been so engrained in [the women]. [Men have] used it to dominate these women and abuse them."
So, what does it take to really help?
"It's a whole new way of thinking for these women; they have to truly be set free by the power of Jesus because they need the truth. They need to see the truth. But until they can actually mentally understand and accept that, [it may be] physically easy but mentally it's been so engrained in them that it's very difficult for them to come out."
VBB workers establish the foundation for this truth to settle on by reaching out to the women at their salon in the red-light district.
The women learn to trust the workers and build relationships with them. This opens doors to sharing the Gospel with the women caught in the sex-trade.
It is by hearing the truth of Jesus that the women realize their true value.
Women who are fortunate enough to live at the safe house are learning skills that will help them support themselves in a healthy way. They also learn more about their Savior.
Romeijn explains that many of the women share about Jesus with their families, even going so far as forgiving them for selling them into sex slavery in the first place.
Photo by Vision Beyond Borders
VBB is working on setting up another salon and another safe house so that the hundreds of women who desire to escape from the sex trade might have an opportunity.
How about you?
You can help support this funding by clicking here (Memo: Vision For Women).
There are opportunities for you to go and help with this ministry in-country.
"[If] someone feels called to actually visit and minister to these women, we take teams over there several times a year. There are opportunities for women to actually go and minister to these women," Romeijn says. There is more information here.
But maybe you've been called to pray instead. "It all begins with prayer," Romeijn says.
This documentary, along with this prayer guide, will help you know how to pray for women caught in the sex trade. Request a copy of the documentary, download the prayer guide, share it with your church, your Bible study, your friends.
Romeijn urges us to pray "that God would continue to set captives free."
She also asks you to pray that God would move hearts in Southeast Asia. She says, "It seems like there's been a great outpouring of His Spirit on these people, and there's just an openness to the Gospel, a desire to be set free. [Pray for] the women that He's already set free: many of them come from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds and are actually sharing the Gospel with their families when they come out and expressing forgiveness to maybe even family members who have sold them into bondage."
Pray that God would bring fruit from the lives of these women whose hearts have turned to Christ.
These projects are part of VBB's Vision For Women ministry.
(South Sudan flag courtesy Wikipedia)
South Sudan (MNN) -- Moving a capital city. It sounds like a herculean task. It's also almost always controversial, but it's not new.
Capital relocation has been done hundreds of times throughout history. Hundreds of years ago, the Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese changed their capitals frequently. Sometimes, the motivation was national security. At other times, it was moved for economic development.
Will the move change anything?
Occasionally, a move occurs when the new city is deemed neutral to competing ethnic or religious groups. Francis Tombe is the Sudan/South Sudan field director of Kids Alive International. He explains, "Security is very bad in Juba. People have been complaining for a long time [and have been] talking for a long time about moving the capital. As long as the capital is there [in Juba], the crime will never stop; so that's one of the reasons."
(Photo courtesy Kids Alive International)
They're worried because their children's homes, schools, and centers are in Wau. Violence has already touched the city. Moving the capital will likely increase the risk of harm for the children Kids Alive helps. Tombe says this is forcing them to come up with a contingency plan. "Some of our kids are growing up. As soon as I get back, we have to talk about how to protect them and how to do some kind of assessment, like are we going to move further out of town?"
Specifically, he says, "Tribalism is also dividing the country, dividing the people. As we are a new nation, we need to focus on the country. Right now, we're focused on the tribe. That's the challenge. Pray also for inner peace for each one of us. We are very disappointed." South Sudan declared its independence with a referendum in 2009. What started with great hope quickly degenerated into rebel groups fighting for control of the new nation and its resources.
He says the instability is disappointing, but notes that moving the capital may not solve the problem. "The same thing that happened in Juba before, will happen again. When you move the capital, [you move all of it; it will be one package], so it will be very hard for us."
Contemplating a move at a time when the country also faces a food shortage that is threatening to turn into famine doesn't make sense. The United Nations estimates the number of people suffering from hunger could rise to four million--almost half of the population. Kids Alive's staff is already feeling the strain.
In the area, Tombe says, "Even now, some people [haven't gotten their] salary for three to six months. It's very, very bad. That will affect us in a different way because there will be war. If we have war, everything will be difficult to operate." Food prices are already going up, which complicates work for Kids Alive.
It's not the first time South Sudanese have considered moving the national capital. In 2011, the cabinet approved a $10 billion plan to relocate the capital to Lakes state. Officials said they needed to move because they could not find enough land for government buildings in Juba. However, that plan was never implemented because there wasn't enough money.
What's the fix?
Three years later, the problems are worse. Kids Alive is stretching resources and staff to accommodate the growing needs of street children. Despite the uncertainty facing the ministry, Tombe says the staff remains hopeful. "We have a lot of opportunities that we can use. We just need peace (no fighting). If we can have peace, we can do a lot of things for Christ."
Three things to pray for: strength for the staff in a time of uncertainty, that God would provide for the needs of the children, and that the peace that passes understanding will prevail in South Sudan.
Evangelical leaders meet in Kiev.(Image courtesy IRS.IN.UA via Russian Ministries)
Ukraine (MNN) -- Evangelical church leaders in eastern Ukraine are calling for help. They recently released a statement detailing the ongoing persecution of believers and directed the world community to take action.
"Targeted attacks have been carried out by armed militants against evangelicals," reads part of the official statement, "accompanied by abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms in places of prayer meetings, seizures of houses of worship, rehabilitation centers, and other places of worship."
You can read the full report on Russian Ministries' religious freedom blog.
Ukraine's current President, Petro Poroshenko, is an evangelical Baptist who took the helm following months of violent protests. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine view any and all evangelicals as supporters of Ukraine's government, and therefore a threat.
“[Separatists] believe that evangelical churches are their enemies. In one of the towns, they even raised the Orthodox flag and said they would fight any heretic, any Protestant, anyone who represents any Western immoral values,” said Russian Ministries President Sergey Rakhuba in a July 23 report.
Evangelical church leaders are calling on groups like the UN and European Union to take action against the separatists on their behalf. They're also calling on believers worldwide to join them in prayer.
Find a list of prayer needs on the right side of this page. Then, add your voice to the "prayer wall" we're building on Facebook.
More on the work of Russian Ministries in Ukraine here.
(Photo courtesy Vox EFX via Flickr)
USA (MNN) -- No sinner is beyond the redemptive power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But, should redemption stop at the soul?
Dr. David Schuringa of Crossroad Bible Institute says ex-felon voting rights should be included in the holistic scope of redemption.
"The Bible's not about payback and revenge," says Schuringa. "We must get out of our heads that punishment is about payback and retribution. Punishment should be about restoration and rehabilitation."
Last week, Schuringa advocated for felon voting rights and offered a faith-based perspective on the issue at a bipartisan U.S. Senate briefing. The talk revolved around the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), a piece of legislation that would restore federal voting rights to former felons.
More on the DRA here.
"Voting is a very, very important part of being invested in our communities, rather than being on the fringes with nothing to say," Schuringa observes.
In biblical curriculum developed specifically for prison inmates, CBI teaches their students why being involved in a community is important. It's all about giving back, instead of taking from others.
(Photo cred: CBI)
"[Voting is] something that will give you a voice, and then you are invested in [the community] and want to be part of it," explains Schuringa. If ex-felons are actively involved in their community, they are less likely to commit a crime that would place them back in prison.
When confronted with the issue of felon voting rights and the Christian's response, Schuringa is reminded of God's commands in Proverbs 31:8 and 9: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (NIV)
"What better way to be a voice for the voiceless than to give the voiceless a voice? And that is the vote. We are a country of second chances," Schuringa observes.
The entire Bible shows that mankind cannot payback or redeem themselves for wrongs they've committed, he adds. That's why Jesus Christ was sent to be our Savior and redeem our fallen relationship with God the Father. Through salvation, we are offered a "second chance" at righteousness.
But, for many people--Christians included, redemption doesn't apply to non-spiritual issues.
"We're pretty much a 'revenge culture,'" Schuringa says, describing U.S. society.
The Gospel message is one of redemption through the salvation offered freely by Jesus Christ. Should that redemption stop at the soul?
Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Faith Comes by Hearing has digital Bible content available in many formats, thanks to the Digital Bible Platform. (Photo courtesy of FCBH)
International (FCBH/MNN) -- Coming from modest beginnings as a cassette tape lending library more than 40 years ago, Faith Comes By Hearing can truly say they understand and appreciate the saying, "You've come a long way, baby."
At one time, the ministry focused solely on those in the American church and provided content in one language: English. Today, they are an international organization providing free digital access to Scripture recordings in over 830 languages that are spoken or signed by over 5.7 billion people. Across all of their digital platforms, the ministry has seen Bible engagement from more than 200 million users in just the last four years.
Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) has been on the technological forefront in digital Bible distribution with the Digital Bible Platform, which houses the world's largest repository of digital Scripture text, audio and video that is freely shared with partnering developers via an open API (application programming interface). The system is also what powers the ministry's own distribution points, which now include:
Deaf Bible app
Bible.is Web site
Internet Radio Network
iTunes podcast store
Samsung Smart TV app
Online streaming player
Troy Carl, FCBH vice president and conceptual creator of the platform, says, "Our goal is simple: to make the Bible freely available to every person on the planet in a format they can actually use and in a language they understand."
That straightforward focus and commitment was evidenced clearly when Faith Comes By Hearing--known as an Audio Bible ministry--released the Deaf Bible app almost two years ago. The Digital Bible Platform now houses and provides access to video Bible translations in 14 sign languages, with more being added regularly. The Deaf Bible app is the most downloaded Deaf app in the world and continues to be on the cutting edge of the video-centric technology needed and desired by the Deaf community.
The ministry also has 24/7 Audio Bible channels broadcasting on satellite TV in the Middle East. The current channels are in Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Azerbaijani, and Turkish, with plans to expand to other prominent languages spoken in the region. This is done in partnership with SAT-7, who promotes each of these on their own broadcast stations.
"We realize that technology is opening many doors to spreading the Good News. And by having this Bible content standardized and in a digital format, we are ready for whatever new tech comes next," states Carl.
Praise God for His blessings upon FCBH. You can support their work financially by following this link.
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
China (MNN) -- Often it's those who struggle the most with their sin who have a greater chance of understanding God's mercy.
Christian Aid Mission supports a drug rehabilitation center in China that is a picture of God using our sin to draw us to Himself.
Amie Cotton of Christian Aid says, "China has a long history of drug use and abuse. Back in the 40s and 50s, there was a lot of opium poppy farming in China."
She says that there are 7-12 million drug abusers in China-- 80% of them being men, and 70% under 35. The most popular drugs are heroin, meth, and ecstasy.
The ministry they assist is called New Birth Garden, located in the Yunnan Province. It is a Christian rehabilitation center that is recognized by both the government and the community as a positive, effective solution to the drug abuse in China.
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
"It's amazing to see what kind of life-changing impact this center is making on drug abusers for years and years," Cotton says.
Along with addressing addictive behavior, drug users are taught helpful skills that will aid them when they reenter society. This includes farming, acupuncture, and massage.
Students at New Birth Garden participate in Bible study, prayer, and praise and worship gatherings.
"The biggest thing is that their life is changed. We know that true healing and freedom can only come from Christ, and so it's exciting to see lives changed, I mean, lives restored and families restored," Cotton says.
For some, whole families accept Christ because of the miraculous change they've seen in their loved one.
"Even people on the outside can see the changed lives and the continuous change. It's not just a change for a while and then they go back to it, which is often the case with drug abuse."
Cotton says this is a practical way of being the hands and feet of Jesus.
The change is obvious even on governmental levels. It's because of this that the government allows them to do other outreaches in the community.
Cotton says, "Because of its successful track record, they see individuals restored and re-engaging in society successfully. They see that it works, and so they're supporting that. They want that for their communities. It's exciting that this is recognized by the Chinese government."
One of the biggest needs of the center is financial support. Currently 21 men are enrolled in the program, and there are 14 full-time workers. But New Birth Garden has to send people away because they cannot afford any more participants. The operation runs for about $10,000 a year.
You can support the center by clicking here. Use gift/CAM code 926GDTC.
If you're not called to support financially, Cotton shares something you can do right now:
"Most of all we need your prayers, that God would be with these men, that He would give them courage, He would give them strength to go through this program to overcome this temptation and this vice in their life, and that God's glory would just shine through and make a difference in their lives."
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
(Photo courtesy China Aid)
USA (MNN) -- According to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide), 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
The United States says they're concerned about this infringement of rights. However, the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom has gone empty for more months than it has been filled in the current administration.
That's why this week's White House announcement brought hope rushing back. David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA. says, "They've appointed Rabbi David Saperstein to this appointment. I'm hoping that he will be very effective. He has a good reputation as far as support of persecuted Christians and religious liberty and issues that are important to Open Doors."
(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/World Economic Forum)
Saperstein has the National Association of Evangelicals' (NAE) endorsement, too. It's a position that serves as the principal advisor on international religious freedom to both the president and the secretary of state. Curry adds, "It's important to have somebody who is a point person, watching out for issues of religious liberty, speaking out for the government, and perhaps negotiating for the United States government with regard to the freedom of people to express their faith."
However, one question that remains is: Who is this guy? According to the NAE, for more than 30 years Saperstein has represented the Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In 1999, Saperstein was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and he also headed the Coalition to Protect Religious Liberty. He's now the first non-Christian to speak for the persecuted Church. “David Saperstein will be a strong advocate and voice for religious freedom around the world,” NAE President Leith Anderson says. “It’s hard to imagine a time when there would be a greater need for such a champion.”
(Photo courtesy Open Doors)
"We're prayerful that this new role will have a great deal of influence and access to the Secretary of State and shape some of the attitudes and policies of this administration," says Curry. He goes on to note that while Saperstein has support from the faith community, he might face an uphill battle. "We're excited that they've finally gotten around to appointing the position again. But because it's been such a weak position and such a lack of focus on this issue from the administration, it's hard to get too optimistic."
The NAE has urged President Obama to fill the position since it became vacant in October 2013. In February, Anderson signed a letter with other well-known American Christian leaders thanking the president for lifting up the cause of international religious liberty at the National Prayer Breakfast and asking him “to appoint a proven leader with the stature to engage world leaders and to give this person your full support as he or she represents and promotes our government’s commitment to religious freedom.”
Persecution? It takes on a whole different meaning in the global context, says Curry. "What we're talking about when we're talking about persecution is the inability to own a Bible, to read a Bible, to talk openly about your faith, to own a business in some countries. In many, many countries, you have to register if you're a Christian, almost as though you're a criminal."
Saperstein comes to the job during unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East. The expulsion of and violence against Christians in Mosul, Iraq is one example of how Christians are targeted for their faith. Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group in the world.
A look at the Open Doors World Watch List shows how volatile the worst oppressors in 50 countries are when it comes down to strengthening Christ followers and equipping them to share their stories. In light of that, Curry urges prayer for Saperstein as he takes on new responsibilities and faces new challenges in his post. Why should you care? "The wider political environment, the administrations, the governments: they're not going to care about persecuted Christians more than the actual Christian community does. It's really a biblical mandate that 'when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.'"
(Logo credit: Keys for Kids)
USA (MNN) -- Radio is great way to get news or music during your commute to and from work. It's also effective for teaching children about Jesus and how He wants them to live. Enter: Red Rock Mysteries and Keys for Kids Ministries.
Dave Malin with Keys for Kids says their Keys for Kids Radio (KSKR) broadcasts reach children throughout the U.S.
"We weave the Gospel and the lifestyle of the typical Christian into the program," Malin explains. "It helps children and the adults who listen understand how to deal, themselves, with those types of situations."
The new audio drama Red Rock Mysteries is based on a book series written by Jerry Jenkins and Chris Fabre. It began airing in mid-May, and is taking the place of an old favorite, Down Gilead Lane (DGL).
At a recent home-schooling conference, Malin said he received positive feedback about the new series.
"Folks came up to us and said, 'Boy, we really love the new Red Rock series! It's different [from DGL], but yet it's still exciting, and we really appreciate the quality of the production,'" recounts Malin.
Listen to a Red Rock episode here.
"We're into the mid-summer stream of airing that series right now," says Malin. "It gives us an opportunity to share Christ in very real situations."
DGL revolved around a family tackling everyday issues with a Christian worldview. Red Rock takes a similar approach, but from a different angle.
Malin explains, "Mom is a single mom raising these two young teenagers" after their father and her husband abandons the family.
Red Rock raises "all the challenges of faith: 'How do I do this?' and 'Where do we turn for the help in our lives?'…That [answer] becomes, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ."
While it may seem like everything is going perfectly--the Red Rock series is underway and finding popularity among young audiences, your prayers and support are still greatly needed.
"People appreciate good radio programming, and unfortunately it's one of those things that takes a lot of money to do," Malin explains. "We're a little bit behind right now, so I guess [it would be good] if folks would pray for our financial needs as we continue on.
"Pray that the programs not only have an impact on families around the country but also help us financially."
Contact Keys for Kids to learn the best ways you can support their ministry.
(Photo courtesy Open Doors)
Cameroon (ODM) -- During attacks on towns in the extreme north of Cameroon over the weekend, a report from Open Doors says suspected members of Boko Haram killed and abducted an unknown number of people.
One of those taken is Pastor Kesvere Jean Marcel, a missionary connected to the Fraternal Lutheran Church from Blangoua, a town near the Chadian border. Local staff report that two Cameroonian soldiers were kidnapped with the pastors. In a separate attack, militants also stormed the town of Kolofata, about 350 km by road south of Blangoua late on Saturday, shooting indiscriminately and looting homes.
From various media reports, it appears that they abducted the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister and her maid early Sunday morning from the town, along with an influential local community leader, Seini Boukar and his family.
A communications officer said on state radio that there was heavy fighting in the area between the Nigerian militants and the Cameroonian army.
Please pray for the safe release of Pastor Marcel and the others who were abducted. Pray that the Cameroonian government will be able to restore calm in the area. Pray for wisdom for regional leaders as they join forces in the fight against Boko Haram militants
Dr. Aldo Fontao (middle) of Argentina says Haggai Institute training is a new way to reach the world for Christ.
USA (MNN) -- Today, many Christians are carefully considering where to invest in cross-cultural missions. The old way of doing it was to recruit western Christians, send them to training, teach them the language, then support their work until they're ready to retire or they're sent home--whichever comes first.
Today, there's a different model.
The Haggai Institute trains nationals. Dr. Aldo Fontao is a Haggai Institute trained cardiologist from Argentina. He is a very influential doctor who has cared for four presidents in his country. Fontao says, "I attended training on how to evangelize your own people."
The goal is to take influential Christian leaders in hard-to-reach areas and train them for 25 days. Fontao says, "It's a new way of doing missions."
Why is it needed? "Most of the countries most in need of evangelism-- like in the Middle East and Asia--are closed to American missionaries or [missionaries] from other countries."
If foreign workers are able to get in, Fontao says, "They have to go there, learn the culture and the language, get into the community. That takes not less than 10 years. And, how much does that cost? With that, you could train 100 locals."
Why train key national Christian leaders? "They have the language, they don't need a visa, and they can do a much better job from the very beginning," says Fontao. "And: you don't have to support them."
Haggai Institute has trained royalty from Africa, vice-presidents, political candidates and professionals--people who already have influence within their culture.
The training costs $12,500 for 25 days of intense training outside of their country. Why so much? Fontao says, "That pays for the airfare, the lecturer, the training [location], for absolutely everything, and participants pay a portion of that."
That's a fraction of what a first-world missionary is paid over a lifetime. And, this training is duplicating itself. "Each of the trainees commit themselves to training 100 others. In these 27 years with Haggai Institute, I have trained more than 30,000 people." That's an incredible return on investment!
The training Haggai Institute provides isn't theoretical; it's practical, hands on, one-on-one training. "Also, we teach people how to reach the new generations and how to reach special groups--how to deal with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam--all that stuff which can be a real challenge in how you defend your faith." The training gives them principles that they can put into practice as soon as leaders return.
While you may not be able to help provide the full funding needed for one of these leader, could you support one for a day? It costs $500. That covers lodging, flight, food, materials, and more. You can also team up with others to make this happen.
To support Haggai Institute, click here.
(Photo courtesy World Health Organization)
Liberia (MNN) -- The Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa is "out of control," according to Doctors Without Borders. The deadly virus is concentrated in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, but there are concerns that hundreds who are unknowingly infected could be spreading the deadly virus even farther.
The disease has a fatality rate of nearly 90% in an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in West Africa--the largest ever recorded, according to World Health Organization reports. It's an incurable disease that's spread through contact, so medical care workers are at high-risk of contracting the disease.
Reach Beyond regional director of Sub-Saharan Africa, Lee Sonius, confirms the latest reports. "I think the worst thing about Ebola is how highly contagious it is. It can be passed even from sweat. The hope that you can somehow bring the cases down all has to do with containment."
Ebola Takes Its Toll
One of Liberia's most high-profile doctors has died of Ebola, and on 26 July, the ELWA medical team said they were dealing with it personally: "The missionaries that have tested positive just in the last few days are working at ELWA Hospital in conjunction with Samaritan's Purse."
Dr. Kent Brantly, Medical Director for the joint SIM/Samaritan's Purse Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia, has tested positive for the Ebola virus. He is currently undergoing treatment in the isolation center at ELWA Hospital. Dr. Brantly is married with two children.
Nancy Writebol serves with SIM in Liberia and was part of the joint SIM/Samaritan's Purse team treating Ebola patients at the Case Management Center in Monrovia. She tested positive for the Ebola virus and is also undergoing treatment at the isolation center at ELWA. Mrs. Writebol is married with two children.
Surviving the Virus
Although the mortality rate is high, 10% of those who contract the virus DO survive. Sonius explains, "There's a much higher chance of survival if you are diagnosed very early. Of course, they're getting the best care that they can get there." SIM manages ELWA Hospital in Monrovia and has partnered with Samaritan's Purse to combat Ebola since the current outbreak began in Liberia in March. "We really need to be keeping these people there in prayer," says Sonius.
(Photo courtesy World Health Organization)
Medical operations continue at the Ebola Case Management Centers in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Liberia Ministry of Health, and other global health authorities.
Sonius explains the connection between ELWA and Reach Beyond. "ELWA has a long history of partnership with Reach Beyond, mainly because of the radio station that is located there. ELWA is the oldest missionary radio station in Africa." Plus, Sonius has long family ties in Monrovia, Liberia.
Key to Crisis
Because Monrovia is also his hometown, Sonius has many friends and mission field ties to the area. He says that Reach Beyond is assessing how they can best help, whether it's through fundraising or raising awareness about the crisis on a global scale. However, he notes, "To me, the key is prayer."
Here's how you can pray:
*Pray for peace of mind for the two colleagues currently diagnosed with Ebola infection, and pray for wisdom for those who are treating them. Pray that their treatment will be effective in arresting the disease. Pray for their families both in Liberia and in their home country that the Lord will grant them His peace.
*Pray for protection for all of the other staff members continuing to treat people suffering from Ebola.
*Pray for healing for the patients who have been admitted.
*Pray for rest and stamina for the medical team.
*Pray that people in Liberia will learn more about this illness and take proper precautions to prevent its spread.
We will keep you updated as information becomes available.
The U.S. border fence near El Paso, Texas.
USA (MNN) -- The border crisis is on the forefront of U.S. politics this week as everyone gears up for fall mid-term elections. Politicians across the board are playing the blame game to make themselves more attractive to voters. The U.S. House of Representative is trying to put a border crisis game plan together before Congress goes on recess.
Politics aside, how should Christ-followers respond?
In Leviticus 19, the Lord spoke to Israel through Moses about what to do with refugees, saying, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."
Buckner International is putting this command into action. They're doing what they can to help with the border crisis, in partnership with Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery and Catholic Charities, and they stand ready to do more.
As of last week, Buckner has sent 8,000 pairs of kids' shoes to front-line responders, who are giving them to families who cross the U.S.-Mexico border near Rio Grande Valley. One was a young mother and her two daughters, Lorena, 8, and Carmen, 6.
Daniela Cruz (name changed) talks to Javier Perez, manager of missions and humanitarian aid for Buckner, as she waits for her daughters, Carmen, 6, and Lorena, 8, to receive a new pair of shoes collected through Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls®. (Image, caption courtesy Buckner)
“There is nothing you can do in El Salvador now for employment, and I can’t even be sure my kids will be safe because of Mara Salvatrucha [a prominent Salvadoran drug gang, also known as MS-13]," the mother told Buckner.
“One of my nieces was being harassed by the gangs, and I didn’t want to have my daughters endure the same treatment.”
Read more of her story here.
According to Buckner officials, many children who cross the border have worn their shoes to pieces after an arduous 10-12 day journey. Other trips have taken as many as 40 days.
"Shoes provide the hope and love of Jesus to [refugee children]," says Matt Asato, Buckner's senior director of ministry engagement.
Lorena and her sister Carmen, 6, traveled for a month with their mother from their native El Salvador to reach Texas.(Image, caption courtesy Buckner)
"By meeting their physical needs, we hope they will feel that love, despite any political situation. [We also hope] they will know that people will serve them for who they are: children of God."
Here are some ways you can help Buckner shine the light of Christ.
Please surround this situation in prayer. Pray for all unaccompanied children who have crossed the border to a strange land and unknown future. Ask the Lord to give endurance and strength to first-line responders. Pray for all the churches, organizations, and groups who are working together to help children and families in need.
More news from Buckner here.
(Photo courtesy MOSES)
Mexico (MNN) -- Sometimes a small team can do an amazing amount of work. For example, MOSES, Inc. just brought a short-term missions team of 20 down to Ensenada, Mexico.
They built two homes for impoverished families in only a week.
"Our little 16 x 20 three-room home is like a castle for them, in many cases," says Judy VanderArk with the MOSES team. "One was extremely challenging because it had to be built up high on stilts. It's important for us to keep our kids safe."
The trip to Mexico is one of three annual short-term missions trips MOSES gathers teams for. They also travel on Weekend Trips throughout the year.
While part of the MOSES team worked on construction projects, another group split off to help with Vacation Bible Schools at seven different churches.
"We help with the games and the crafts, and they do the puppet shows; they lead the songs with the motions," VanderArk explains. "We figure it's best that they [the national ministry leaders] do the primary share of the presentation because they can do the follow-up after we're gone."
While completing construction projects and helping under-resourced churches were the main assignments for this team, demonstrating Christ's love to those who might not believe was their primary purpose.
"On the last day, we gather up all of our team, even those that were at the VBS sites, and…we'll circle and join hands, and we pray and sing," VanderArk says.
"One of the people that worked on the project, usually a teen, will present the key to the new owner and a Bible that's signed by all the members of the team. It's a very emotional time, usually."
MOSES is a peer-led ministry, which means teens are responsible for the physical and spiritual impact on trips, while adults come along as chaperones. Most of MOSES "regulars" have grown past the age where they can lead trips. But this Mexico trip was perhaps the first for a new generation of student leaders.
"I'm optimistic about next year because I think four or five of these young people would make really excellent peer leaders next year," shares VanderArk.
Contact VanderArk to see how you, or a student leader you know, can join the next MOSES trip.
Join CRI on a mission trip to the Philippines.Six stops in October.
Philippines (MNN) -- While the Philippines has been battered by natural disasters over the last year, Good News is coming to the country. It's the greatest story ever told: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Executive Director of Christian Resources International Jason Woolford says, "We are going to send a used book value of $3 million of free Bibles and Christian books to six different locations within the Philippines. We will be setting up our CRI distribution center in the northern part of the Philippines."
Why is this needed? Woolford says, "For people, pastors, evangelists, and brand new Christians to get a free Bible or Christian book."
That's not all. In addition to the shipment of books, Woolford and his team will travel to the Philippines to will hold Gospel meetings. The trip is scheduled for the first week in October. "I'll be ministering in the Cuneta Astrodome in Manila. We're expecting a minimum of 10,000 people [to] come and hear a free concert from the Michael Maher Band and then be ministered to. And each person will walk out with a free Bible or Christian book."
According to Woolford, this kind of ministry is needed. "122,000 people are being saved every day around the world, and the majority of those people are attending a church with a pastor who doesn't even own a Bible. Our ministry encourages people in the United States to share their bookshelf, to support us financially, and we send those books around the world.
"That helps to support Bible colleges, lending libraries, and equip pastors, orphans, and new believers with God's Word that would normally be discarded."
Training is another part of CRI's October trip. "We'll be training up pastors in multiple areas on that trip, both in the cities of Batangas and Dagupan. We will reach over 1,000 pastors."
The only thing holding them back right now is funding to ship the books. "We need people to pray, but we also need people to come along financially. We're halfway [to our goal] of $80,000 to make this thing a reality."
It costs $11,000 to send a container of books to the Philippines. Perhaps your church or business can help sponsor this distribution effort.
If you can help financially or would like to go on the trip with Woolford and other CRI supporters, click here.
Exploding shells are destroying homes and churches in the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian rebels have been battling for control since March.(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
Ukraine (CAM) -- Senseless violence in embattled eastern Ukraine took on added ramifications last week with the downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner near the Russian border.
As that investigation begins, new reports are surfacing of additional casualties of war: this time, Christians who are caught in the crossfire.
Christian Aid Mission has received word from ministry sources inside Ukraine that church leaders are being targeted by terrorists in the volatile Donetsk region.
A pastor, his two adult sons, and an elder have been missing since June 8, when they were kidnapped from an evangelical church in the city of Slovyansk. Some six weeks later, the ministry finally learned what happened to the four men.
The following report came from a Ukrainian ministry leader who is a long-time friend of Christian Aid:
These four brothers in Christ were kidnapped a month ago by terrorists. All the while their families prayed for them, not having any information of their whereabouts.
Only a week ago, witnesses revealed that on the night of June 8, terrorists abused and tortured them, and in the morning they let the men go. The elder deacon was driving the car. Once they left the city, the terrorists reappeared, chasing after them in a vehicle. They started shooting at the deacon’s car.
The pastor and his sons jumped out of the car to try to escape. They were shot to death immediately. The driver was also killed, and his body was burned when they set the car on fire. On the second day, fighters took the bodies and buried them with other victims in the same grave.
Just now the families of the four men received this information. All this time they have been waiting for their husbands, fathers, and sons to come back home.
The oldest of the pastor’s sons leaves behind a wife and two young children. The other son had three children. The elder deacon had eight children, and his wife is due to give birth to their ninth child in August.
This is by no means an isolated incident. For the past few months, church leaders from various Christian denominations have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten, arrested, and in some instances, killed, allegedly by pro-Russian supporters and militants. Some pastors have fled to the western part of Ukraine.
A spokesman for Christian Aid said the rebels are taking aim at believers because they support the Ukrainian government and its security forces. He surmised the abuse of pastors may be in retaliation for congregation members who give food and clothing to Ukrainian soldiers.
International Christian Concern (ICC) noted two incidents on its Web site. In May, Archpriest Pavel Zhuchenko of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was shot dead near a roadblock post in the Donetsk region. Pro-Russian rebels were blamed for his death.
Days later the national bishop of the Ukrainian Church of God was abducted in Slovyansk. According to ICC, militants seized his church building and used it as a base for their operations. The bishop was placed in an isolation cell for several hours. He was released unharmed the next day.
Civilians living in the conflict zone have also suffered greatly, and thousands have lost their homes and possessions. Electricity and water have been cut off in some areas around Donetsk.
A ministry supported by Christian Aid is delivering food parcels and clothing to families impacted by the war.(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
“Christians of the western and central regions of our country are trying to help families who are going through tremendous pain and loss. The terrorists destroy everything: homes, schools, and even peaceful, innocent citizens,” said the leader of one Christian Aid-assisted ministry.
“We are grateful to God that there are people who do not stand aside during this terrible affliction. Several work teams are bringing in building materials and fixing up damaged homes. Pray for God’s protection over them day and night. We understand this is a big risk, but we cannot be indifferent when thousands of our brothers and sisters have nowhere to lay their heads,” he said.
The Ukrainian military reclaimed Slovyansk from separatists in early July. The city, located 90 miles from the Russian border, sustained heavy damage from the fighting. Power is expected to be restored soon, but the recovery process will take months, if not years. Ukrainians and ethnic Russians remain sharply divided on the issue of separatism.
Another Christian Aid-assisted ministry has been partnering with evangelical churches in western Ukraine to assist Christian families living in the war-torn east. Last week they delivered 27 tons of food and three tons of clothing.
“At first glance, that may seem like a lot of supplies, but for many thousands of hungry and hurting people, it is like a drop in the ocean,” said that ministry’s director. “The war rages on, and the number of needy people is increasing.”
These Ukrainian ministries are seeking financial assistance to provide food and clothing for additional families, as well as funds to replace windows, doors, and roofs on houses damaged by shelling. One of the ministries is also in need of tires for its large truck, so it can be used to deliver relief supplies to affected communities.
Please click here to send help through Christian Aid.
Speaker Turchinov speaking at a church in Ukraine.
Ukraine (MNN) -- Ukraine's Prime Minister added to the country's uncertainty Friday when Arseny Yatseniuk abruptly resigned his post. Yatsenyuk, one of the leaders of the Maidan protests, was admired by Ukrainians as a safe, mild-mannered, intellectual leader with new vision.
However, that mild-mannered man became outraged as lawmakers refused to pass legislation that would allow Ukraine to finance its army and war efforts, and regulate the country's energy situation. "History will not forgive us," he told parliament. "Our government now has no answer to the questions: how are we to pay wages, how are we tomorrow morning going to send fuel for armored vehicles, how will we pay those families who have lost soldiers, to look after the army?" reported The Guardian.
The newly-elected president, Petro Poroshenko, welcomed the move which will lead to new elections, saying: "Society wants a full reset of state authorities."
In the midst of a myriad of Ukrainian problems, the question for evangelical Christians is how with this "rest" affects the work of evangelical outreach in Ukraine.
President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says, "As violence continues to plague eastern Ukraine, and when the country is in such deep crisis, politicians in Kiev still try to sort out issues."
He added, "This raises quite a bit of concern in the country, especially who will be the new prime minister in such a critical time. National churches call on to their congregations to pray more earnestly for God to intervene because a lot is at stake with regard to who the new prime minister will be, and who takes the majority when new elections take place."
Will this uncertainty affect evangelical outreach? Rakhuba says, "I don't personally see it negatively impacting evangelicals. One thing though: [Oleksander] Turchinov, [speaker of the parliament], may lose his influence in the parliament since Yatsenuk is his strongest ally." Turchinov is an evangelical Christian.
In the meantime, Russian Ministries continues helping Ukrainians displaced by the fighting through the local church-initiated I Care program. $50 purchases a week's supply of relief aid and the Gospel of Luke.
To support the program, click here.
Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles.
Liberia (MNN) -- The Ebola outbreak is claiming the lives of pastors, leaving many churches without a leader. Tony Weedor with Advancing Native Missions, originally from Liberia, says missionary pastors are often called to lay hands on sick villagers and pray for them.
"They'll go there and do it without knowing this person is carrying the virus, and by the time they realize it, it's too late," Weedor explains.
90% of people who are infected with Ebola are killed by the virus; however, early detection has reportedly brought that rate down to 60% in this outbreak. Symptoms include headache, fever, and fatigue, but they don't appear immediately.
Once symptoms do appear, victims usually have about 10 days before massive internal bleeding occurs.
"By the time it's realized, it's too late; maybe two, three, or five people are already infected," says Weedor.
The risk of infection doesn't stop there. Contact with the body of an infected person can spread the disease, and that's where another problem arises.
"Burial is very, very important in Africa," Weedor explains. "They have to bathe the body, wash the body before they bury it; all that includes touching."
Health workers taking a dead body from the ELWA hospital.(Image, caption courtesy ANM)
The Ebola outbreak has killed over 600 people in West Africa so far. According to the latest WHO update, Liberia accounts for 224 of those deaths.
Weedor says the true amount could be much higher.
"Those are the ones that have come to hospital, but what about those in the villages who have just died without [visiting a] hospital?" he questions. "[We have] very few hospitals in Liberia."
In fact, health workers are abandoning their posts at one of the country's largest hospitals, Weedor reports. "They're abandoning their duties and leaving the hospital, literally running away from the hospital."
ANM missionaries are trying to teach villagers how to stop the disease from spreading, but they need transportation. Can you help? Click here to contact ANM, and ask how you can contribute to the Ebola outbreak response.
"Any little help...in terms of funding and what-have-you, we would really appreciate," says Weedor.
Here's how you can intercede for the people of Liberia:
Ask the Lord to protect pastors and native missionaries from infection.
Pray for health workers who are responding to the crisis will not be infected.
Pray that the food crisis caused by the Ebola outbreak will not worsen.
"Drivers are afraid to drive or move around," explains Weedor. This means rural villages aren't getting the food or supplies they need.
More ANM stories can be found here.