(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Quapan)
Middle East (MNN) -- There's a cultural revolution going on. Words like that bring to mind Iran, Russia, and China…but it's underway right now in territories controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, explains, "They want to be a state. They want to be a nation. They established a court system there, government structure. They established a way to hand out food to the needy, and now they're establishing an education system."
Last month, ISIS declared the start of the academic school year under new rules and a new curriculum. They abolished classes about history, literature, music, and Christianity. The new rules also declared patriotic songs blasphemous and ordered certain pictures torn out of textbooks. Nettleton says that the indoctrination "is really the next step in the Islamic State setting up the structure and the culture--a permanent society that they want to exist in the areas that they control."
What this means is a permanent shift. The Islamic State is trying to change the face of Iraq and Syria for good. However, the "Islamic State Education Diwan" stipulates that pictures that violate its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam must be ripped out of books. Anthems and lyrics that encourage love of country are now viewed as a show of "polytheism and blasphemy" and are strictly banned. Scientific research has stopped because of funding disruption due to the war, too.
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Quapan)
Sounds a lot like what happened during the uprisings that changed the face of France, Russia, China, and Iran--and not for the better. Nettleton agrees. "These movements typically don't move a country forward. We've already seen Christians being kicked out of the areas that Islamic State controls. We've seen backwards movement on religious freedom, on freedom of expression. I think we'll see that in this educational reform, as well."
Although ISIS is called a terrorist group, the path they've carved out for themselves looks like one that's meant to be generational. It also means Christians who've been displaced are probably not going to be able to return home. That's not to say the light of Christ has gone dark. It's more that it's in a dark lantern--very much alive, but concealed so it can be revealed later. "There are Christians in the area, there are Muslim converts who are there. They're lying very low, at this point in time, trying to stay out of sight and keep their faith very secretive." For them, says Nettleton, it's a matter of life or death. "If they are exposed as a Muslim convert, they would be executed."
Gospel work has been disrupted with the exodus of believers from the region. VOM comes alongside the refugees. "We are in contact with people who have been displaced from the areas of the Islamic State. We are providing aid and help to them. The challenge is trying to provide help and encouragement back to Christians in the areas that the Islamic State controls."
What's happening is changing the face of the nations. It's spiritual warfare that requires as many soldiers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and resist. "The other thing that I would encourage people to pray for is for the Lord to move supernaturally in these areas where all the Christians have been kicked out, where any Christians who are there are keeping a very low, underground profile. God is moving in the Muslim world through supernatural means, through dreams, through visions."
Severe Tropical Cyclone Phailin lurking just off the northeast coast of India at peak intensity.(Image courtesy NOAA, caption courtesy TheSurvivialPlaceBlog.com)
India (GFA/MNN) -- Last October, India's eastern coast experienced the worst cyclone it had seen in 14 years: Cyclone Phailin. The storm damaged or destroyed 800,000 homes, and many people lost every earthly possession they owned.
Recovery efforts, initiated and carried out by believers in the affected areas, are putting Christ's love into action.
Right after Phailin struck, Gospel for Asia (GFA) teams responded with the compassion of Christ and cared for survivors' basic needs. Ministry leaders also initiated a reconstruction program. As they monitor progress in each affected area, local pastors and other ministry leaders pray over the houses as they're being built.
“Now I understand the deep love of Jesus for me and my family,” said one house recipient.(Photo, caption courtesy GFA)
So far, GFA teams have rebuilt 141 homes for Phailin survivors, with plans to rebuild at least 1,000 homes over the next three years. In addition, GFA-supported nationals are providing education for affected children through the Bridge of Hope program.
"Jibu" and his family lost their house and all their belongings when Cyclone Phailin swept through Odisha. After receiving a home as part of GFA’s Phailin Housing Project, he said in tears, “We are a very poor family. No one was there to help us when we lost everything during Phailin. Even our own relatives did not help us. But I am so happy that GFA helped me. I am so grateful to the church.”
Click here to help GFA reach their goal of 300 rebuilt homes by December 31.
At the same time, GFA Compassion Services teams are bringing help to families who were affected by the most recent storm, Cyclone Hudhud.
All the food packets were prayed over before being given to those in need.(Photo, caption courtesy GFA)
On Sunday, believers and GFA pastors packed up a truck with food packets for 400 families living in three areas hit hardest by Cyclone Hudhud. Each food packet contained 22 pounds of rice, 2 pounds of dal, 2 pounds of sugar, 1 quart of oil, and various cooking spices.
Hudhud left hundreds of people homeless, seeking shelter in relief camps or under plastic tarps issued by local authorities. About 95 houses belonging to believers have been damaged. Forty families of children attending a Bridge of Hope center in Andhra Pradesh and at least 28 pastors have been affected.
These efforts and actions have led to a lot of curiosity and questions about the Gospel message. Pray for the immediate and eternal impact of GFA's disaster recovery projects.
More India stories here.
Guatemala (MNN) -- The average person doesn't replace their car every two years. But the average vehicle used by Paradise Bound Ministries in Guatemala only lasts two to three years because of bad road conditions. Because of the immense growth Paradise Bound has seen in Guatemala, they have an extensive network of lay pastors to serve. No longer is traveling by road sufficient or efficient.
(Image by Paradise Bound Ministries)
Since April, the staff of Paradise Bound has been asking for your prayers regarding an aviation program. Dan Smith of Paradise Bound shares some exciting updates with us.
"God has led us to a specific aircraft," he says. A man from Minnesota is selling this aircraft to Paradise Bound.
The ministry knows that it's a little more complicated than buying a plane. It's a transition to a whole new way of operating.
Smith says, "The first step for us was stepping out in faith. God called us to it, and so we step out in faith, and we know that. It's been confirmed through prayer, it's been confirmed through many, many doors that have been opening for us."
Not only is the cost of replacing and repairing vehicles becoming a bigger problem, the accessibility to villages leaves something to be desired. Smith explains that during certain times of the year, they cannot reach some villages at all.
Right now, if all goes well, Paradise Bound can visit three villages in three days and share the Gospel with them. That's the best-case scenario.
A plane would change that. Smith says, "If we were to fly to those same three villages, we could do all three villages in the same day going from one village to another village, to another village, and still be back home in time for supper.
"And we will have presented the Gospel to hundreds more people than what we would have over the course of three days."
Smith says that this will end up costing half the amount of money with all factors considered. "So you begin to see real quickly that there is an efficiency factor that far outweighs the cost factors of the aircraft in the time savings alone."
The initial cost to get the plane into operation for Paradise Bound is $250,000. This includes the cost of the plane, the first years of flying, and more.
This is a large number for such a small ministry. Smith says they have a current matching grant for $50,000. That will bring their raised funds to $100,000 if donors match that amount.
The gifting will determine how soon Paradise Bound can raise the rest of the funds. Smith says, "I know even now that there are listeners today that could write a check for $250,000, and it would not hurt them financially. If anything, it would actually bring gifts into their lives as you cannot out-give God. But there are also those who are listening today that couldn't even do $2.50 without hurting them right now."
Smith says that traditionally, their ministry has been sustained financially through small gifts. He wants potential supporters to know that this is an incredible opportunity for anyone to partner with a ministry that will share the love of Christ with people who have never heard about Him before. He also assures us that they are more than ready if a generous donor would cover all the costs.
They are leaving it up to God and how He moves your hearts.
If you'd like to contribute to this cause financially, click here. Pray that Paradise Bound would be successful in getting this program off the ground and that they would be able to minister to many more souls.
Also, if you're in the Holland, Michigan area, check out information here about an Open House on November 6, 2014 where you can learn more about this aviation project.
Current military situation as of October 20, 2014. The gray-shaded area signifies Islamic State territory.(Map obtained via Wikpedia)
Middle East (MNN) -- Evidence of Islamic State expansion is mounting. The terrorists are continually advancing, broadening their physical footprint, and U.S. officials said yesterday that ISIS is "the world's wealthiest terrorist group." In addition, their transition from shocking acts of terror to widespread societal reform carries troubling implications.
How will this Islamic State reformation affect ministry in Muslim nations? We asked Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI), whose goal is to reach Muslims for Christ by partnering with indigenous Gospel workers.
"This is not just a 'flash in the pan,'" Allen states. "This is saying, 'We are revamping society wherever we can.'"
Last week, several Taliban leaders pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, broadening the reach of radical Islam.
"The brick and mortar offices of ISIS have been established in several cities across Pakistan. One of those offices is just a couple of kilometers away from where we have about 10 church planters and pastors and evangelists working," says Allen, adding that ISIS also has an active presence in Bangladesh.
"It's as if whatever ISIS starts off with in Iraq and Syria…they're expected to do that in these other places now, too."
With no world powers stepping up to stop them, ISIS only shows signs of growing and expanding into more Muslim-majority nations. Allen says the indigenous Gospel workers they support in these places are standing firm, despite the dangers posed by global Islamic State expansion.
Islamic State expansion and society
Muslim woman reading the Koran.(Photo credit Been Buddy Longway via Flickr)
In a report issued earlier this week, Al-Monitor exposed new IS rules on education being implemented throughout Syria and Iraq.
The IS reforms covered a broad array of issues: from altering Iraq and Syria's names to Islamic State and banning classes in music, art, philosophy, and history of religious minorities, to imposing religious curricula that aligns with Saudi Arabia's Salafist theology.
Allen says the educational changes will be implemented in Pakistan; it's only a matter of when.
"They are going to start eradicating formal education if they get to have major dominant influence in Pakistan," FMI's leader in Pakistan told Allen recently.
"While that's a threat, it's also an opportunity."
Islamic State expansion and the Church
Allen says FMI-supported Gospel workers are already adapting their ministry to accommodate for Islamic State expansion into Pakistan. Pastors and church planters are adding classrooms onto their church buildings, providing education for the believers they shepherd and a Gospel opportunity for other religious minorities in the community.
Sheik armed with knife & pistol teachesrecruits in Islamic State boot camp.(Screenshot of YouTube video courtesy Karl-Ludwig Poggemann via Flickr)
ISIS will kill anyone who doesn't adhere to their worldview, Allen explains. This means Shi'ite Muslims in the Middle East are just as vulnerable to Islamic State violence as their Christian counterparts.
In fact, Allen says eight Shia Muslims were recently killed while on their way to a marketplace in Pakistan.
"In a place where Christians will rise to the challenge and say, 'We want to have outreach in this community and provide education; we want to show an alternative to the horrors of ISIS,' that will speak loudly to other minorities, such as the Shi'ite Muslims," says Allen.
Islamic State expansion and you
While the raw statistics can be overwhelming and you might feel helpless in the face of growing Islamic State terrorism, there are at least two things you can do.
(Photo credit the prayer continued via Flickr)
"I'd encourage people to pray for these church planters and pastors and evangelists, for their courage and their vision for ministry, [for] their abilities to lead congregations to take advantages of these windows of opportunity that they still have, [as well as] new opportunities that may miraculously become available, just like in the days of Esther," Allen says.
"Scriptures tell us the weapons of our warfare are different. Physical battles find their source actually in spiritual ones, and so we have to be dedicated to using spiritual weapons like prayer and fasting."
You can also come alongside indigenous Gospel workers financially.
"Donations to help support the pastors and church planters are vital, so that they can lead their congregations and continue to have outreach in their communities."
More ISIS updates here.
Pakistan (AMG) -- Editor's Note: Christina Javed is a national worker with AMG International in Pakistan who is involved in various ministries such as providing free legal aid to poor Christians and distributing food to families in need. The following is an AMG update from Pakistan:
Recently, Pakistan experienced heavy monsoon rains and severe flooding that affected many families. In the name of Jesus, Christina Javed and her team were able to distribute 70 food packs to 70 families who were devastated by the flooding. They were also able to share the story of the woman at the well from the Gospel of John.
Christina was able to minister to a woman named Rabia who lost a family member in the flood. She writes, “Rabia’s family is one of those families who were severely affected by the 2014 floods in Pakistan. She got married in December 2013. She told us, ‘We live in a village near Jhang, and when the rainy season started, our family was very worried because we were still recovering from 2010 floods.’ She was pregnant at that time.
Christina with Rabia and her baby (Photo courtesy AMG Int'l)
Her father-in-law and her husband are farmers who got a small piece of land on lease, and the whole family works in the fields. She said that they were sleeping when the flood water entered their village. “It destroyed everything,” said Rabia. She lost her mother-in-law in flood. She, along with her husband and father-in-law, managed to escape and came to the Jhang city. She gave birth to a baby girl in the camp, and now she is living in the camp. She has nothing to eat and wear.
Pray that Christina and her team will be able to continue working in others' lives and sharing the gospel.
Thailand (MIS) -- Editor's note: Kelsey Gaines and Melissa Mitchell interned in Thailand and wrote about their life-changing discoveries.
Neither of us has a background in teaching or a plan to pursue a career in education, and yet somehow we have both found ourselves in southern Thailand doing just that: teaching. We had learned in our intern training about the importance as entering cultures as “learners.” So we decided that our approach should be to spend the months in Thailand as learners, even though our role was that of teachers.
As the first group of students arrived to the classroom, our hosts, Ubolwan and Nantachai, informed us that we would be teaching, even though we had thought we would simply be observing. We didn’t have a lesson planned; we didn’t know how much English the kids could speak or read. The next hour was absolute chaos!
One of us was flipping madly through books, while the other was writing various English words on a white board and having the students read them aloud. In the midst of the insanity, we realized something very important: the skills and talents we had would not be enough. We would have to be dependent on the Lord.
He made it evident that this ministry was already established and that, above all, we were to serve our hosts and love their students without an agenda. We realized we were not here for ourselves. We were here to be used by God as a bridge for Ubolwan and Nantachai (a Thai couple who has ministered for many years among their own people) to be able to talk with their students about the character of the Savior, who loves them greatly.
Approaching this internship as learners has allowed both of us to grow in understanding of God’s character, to abandon our agendas, and to genuinely love those we come in contact with. This internship has given us a time and place to better understand our individual roles in God’s mission for the nations. Through the ups and downs of being immersed in another culture, God has spoken truth into our lives that we can carry forward into our future ministries.
In the beginning, we were not sure why the Lord had us here in Thailand, but our saying "yes" to this opportunity has allowed us to understand the importance of being obedient. Through this, we have experienced a bit of what God is doing in this nation, and we have realized that through our obedience, God reveals His plans for us.
Gaines says, “After learning much more about who God is and what He is doing in Thailand, my current plans are to finish my degree at Texas A&M and attend seminary for counseling following graduation.”
Mitchell says she wants to graduate from Georgia Southern University in December and begin school for occupational therapy. She writes, “After this, I plan to pursue medical missions with a specialization in therapy for children with disabilities--wherever the Lord leads me!"
Pray that the Lord will continue leading Kelsey and Melissa to where they are meant to be and that they will continue to rely on Him.
(Photo courtesy Global Aid Network)
Liberia (GAiN/MNN) -- While virtually every NGO (non-government organization) has pulled its personnel out of Liberia, Global Aid Network’s Cru (or Campus Crusade for Christ) partners are remaining on the ground in Liberia, continuing to minister. GAiN USA is committed to sending medical supplies, medical equipment, food, and other requested items.
University students who are involved in Campus Crusade’s ministry in Liberia have developed a pamphlet entitled, Ebola Kills, Jesus Heals. They’re offering the pamphlet as they help with the distribution of GAiN-provided food and medical items to people.
The students also have set up a cell phone prayer chain. Each night from 10-11 PM, groups of five students on a conference call pray for the Ebola crisis, for salvation of specific people, for their country, and for many other needs.
One Liberian doctor is an example of a man living out his faith, trusting in the Lord. Dr. Kortimai is chief of the hospital in Lofa County, site of the worst Ebola outbreak in Liberia. He is a government physician, a pastor, and an associate of the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry who was discipled by Campus Crusade when he was a student at the university.
In a recent interview, Dr. Kortimai was asked why he stays in Lofa County. “As a pastor, I’m the shepherd of my sheep. The shepherd doesn’t leave his sheep. As a physician, I’m to care for my patients, not abandon them. I believe that my practice is not only for medical care but is also for spiritual purposes, and people’s lives can be transformed.”
In talking about the fear that so many people are experiencing because of Ebola, he said, “In the midst of faith, fear ceases to exist. Let’s walk in faith.”
When asked if he is returning to Lofa County, he replied, “If I don’t go, who will?”
When he returned to Lofa County, Dr. Kortimai took with him 50 boxes of food sent by GAiN USA.
This week, GAiN USA is sending another shipping container packed with bulk food (rice and beans), packaged meals, medical supplies, medical equipment, beds and mattresses, and other assorted material.
Pray for a safe journey for GAiN USA deliveries and a quick hand out process when it arrives. Pray also for increased opportunities to share Christ with those who need eternal hope.
(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)
South Sudan (MNN) -- South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar have reportedly reached a deal in Tanzania. The agreement should end hostilities that have left thousands of people dead, but it's complicated.
The two sides accepted responsibility for South Sudan’s civil war and stressed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), should be reunited. The 10-month war was between the army and defectors. However, the violence also became a tribal fight (Dinka vs. Nuer) and a sectarian conflict.
Sadly, since December, nearly two million people have fled their homes, including 1.4 million who remain displaced within South Sudan. It's a far cry from the hopeful beginnings of July 2011 when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.
The next question: will the agreement hold? There's been a lull in recent fighting, and humanitarian groups aren't sure if that's because of heavy rains or conflict weariness. Due to that uncertainty, UN officials are concerned that next month's dry season could see violence flare up again.
In the meantime, Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response says there are 30 refugee camps located in extremely inhospitable areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Makeshift camps lack basic access to what's needed to keep war survivors alive. An assessment earlier in the year revealed one part of the need. "There were definitely food issues, there were issues in South Sudan, but also there were issues outside for some of the refugees that had come out into Northern Uganda."
(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)
Palmer says one issue "that we really identified was water. Since there were several other organizations working in the area, we decided that we would take the water sector."
Rebuilding can't happen without the right building blocks. First, there's access to clean water. "We worked initially with three wells with the refugees, but then expanded that to six deep wells. In the end, it serviced almost 16 different camps."
Sitting on the foundation of the clean water block are the tools for food production, like seeds. Even if a ceasefire happened tomorrow, a food crisis would still emerge in South Sudan because of "decades of conflict: you've got disruption of people being moved from place to place, no time to have the whole season to plant and to harvest, and so you've got all kinds of food production issues."
(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)
Vocation training plays a role in building the "new normal" for the displaced. So does education. BGR estimates that 5% of the kids are unaccompanied minors just trying to find a safe place. Palmer says there are "a lot of issues about education because of IDPs and relocations, and children's schooling being disrupted. So we partnered to do some education initiatives, feeding of the school children so that they can stay in school, and some water and some income-generation projects."
Why? After all they've been through, the survivors need to hope in a future. "As they're responding to food, shelter, and water needs, working through a trusted local partner who is like-minded, like we are, is also a way to also ensure that there's also a message of hope for the future, and that hope is in Jesus Christ."
A generational grudge-match could undo any progress made in reunification, but few care. South Sudan just isn't a priority in global concerns compared to Iraq, Syria, the Ebola crisis, and ISIS. Palmer acknowledges that, but he says that doesn't lessen need or responsibility. "I know there's a lot of things happening in the world, but don't forget South Sudan. Keep praying for those in need. Keep praying for those responding. Keep supporting organizations like Baptist Global Response."
(Image courtesy baba via Flickr)
India (MNN) -- You know all those stories we've shared about persecution in India? We've heard many accounts of violence against those sharing the Gospel in South Asia. Haggai Institute alumna and Indian publisher Ingrid Albuquerque is sharing an insider's perspective.
"This is all taking place in rural areas, in small villages," she states. "There's simply no evidence of it in the metropolitan cities, where we are able to practice our religion freely."
Persecution or no persecution?
On the topic of persecution in India, Albuquerque says it is "more of a perception than a reality." Violence against those sharing the Gospel peaked in 2008, she adds, when Christians were blamed for the murder of a well-known Hindu swami.
Today, Albuquerque says, "It's more a battle of semantics than an actual fight between communities."
(Photo of Narendra Modi courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
However, during Modi's first 100 days in office as India's Prime Minister, attacks on religious minorities in rural areas became a regular occurrence.
"There have been around 600 attacks on persons from other [religious] communities," says Albuquerque. Roughly 4,000 Christians were attacked in 200 major incidents last year.
"Many people have banished non-Hindu missionaries, and now there's a new campaign come up," she shares, saying the English translation of the campaign means Come Home.
"Those who converted to Christianity are being asked to return to Hinduism."
In urban areas, like the city of Bangalore where Albuquerque's publishing house is located, Albuquerque says Indians are more open to hearing about other faiths.
"In India, there are no problems because the spirit of people, the heart of people, is really spiritual. It's not fanatical, it's spiritual," she states.
Sharing the Gospel strategically
Ingrid Albuquerque-Solomon has been part of the mainstream media in India for 32 years. (Caption, photo courtesy Berean Bay Publishing Company)
The Haggai Institute's training helps believers in positions of leadership share Christ within their societal context. Albuquerque says the training helped her move from "compartmentalized Christianity" to a lifestyle of sharing the Gospel.
Learn more about Haggai's training here.
One of the ways this took place was through Albuquerque's biography of Basant Kumar Birla and his wife, Sarala devi. The Birla family is famous in India, and industrialist Basant Kumar Birla's father was a close associate of Mahatma Ghandi.
Albuquerque wrote the book through the lens of God's Word.
"The book was written in such a way that nobody could find fault with it," she says. "And that, I will tell you, is the Haggai Institute training."
If you've ever wondered how to share your faith without causing offense, consider this: "What you believe in has to become your lifestyle," Albuquerque states. "It's that simple. Why do we complicate it?"
Find more Haggai alumni stories here.
Photo by FARMS International
International (MNN) -- Mission organizations do their best to ensure that your donation dollars make the biggest impact possible in the lives of the lost and hurting.
The trend toward self-sustaining projects has shot up in recent years. One path many mission groups have pursued is establishing a micro-loan program.
Sometimes micro credit programs can be more harmful than they are helpful. By following Biblical principles of stewardship, FARMS International has avoided this negative affect of loaning money to families in need.
Joe Richter, president of FARMS says, "We're working primarily with Christian families, and that's very different than a normal micro credit that many times just targets women for the loan program. We feel our approach is done to help the whole family."
Another issue with many micro-loan programs is that the money given is too small to establish a helpful business or income.
FARMS gives out what they call entrepreneurial loans. Rather than a loan of $50-200, these loans give $500-1000. Instead of the loan recipients coming back to ask for more money time and time again, having a larger chunk of cash helps families start a sustaining income that allows them to pay back their loan.
Richter shares the story of a widow in Haiti. Women in Haiti who lose their husbands don't expect to be able to send their children to school. One widow who received a loan from FARMS was able to start a fruit preserve and jam business. She paid back the loan, built a nice house, and sent all of her children to college. She recognizes that this wouldn't have been possible without the assistance of FARMS.
A unique aspect of FARMS micro-loan program is that recipients agree to tithe 10% of their profit. This helps support the local church so they can continue to operate and share the love of Christ with the community. Many times, this income allows the churches to begin a mission work.
Many micro-loan programs out there have incredibly high interest rates, averaging about 36%.
Families who receive these loans to start a business have trouble paying back the loan, and they have to quit their business.
FARMS doesn't charge interest, only a small service fee to cover the overhead costs of their volunteer teams.
Right now, FARMS has 20 of these projects in 11 different countries. Richter says while it varies from location to location, the amount of people paying back loans is high.
Where the loan ministry starts
The success of these programs don't start at FARMS. They begin with believers taking their own tithe money and investing it into the efforts of the ministry. It begins with people blessed with extra who have a heart for families in need all around the world.
Richter says, "One of the biggest needs always is to fund all of those programs adequately as they keep expanding and finding new churches and new areas that need help."
Once money is given, it is recycled again and again to help numerous families. It is a local revolving loans system: as soon as one family pays back their loan, it goes out to help another family.
Money a ministry?
The micro-loan program is a ministry for two reasons. First of all, it addresses the very real physical needs of people.
"One of the real impacts is all the children get to go to school and have the funds to go to school. And when you help the whole family, the whole blessing is there for that whole family as well as food and shelter. The future of their children...and the health of the whole family is increased," Richter says.
Another way these loans minister to people is that they draw families to Christ. It begins with the faith of volunteers: "The needs are always more than we can supply. But God always knows what we need. We're always excited to see how faithful the people are that run the programs and how faithful the people that receive the loans are in repaying the loans so other families can be helped like they were," Richter says.
This is a different way to keep people accountable to paying back than many other systems have established. Some loan programs have groups agree to pay back loans and cover each other's cost if one individual can't pay. Richter says this often creates social problems in communities and lowers the income for the whole group when one member fails to have the money ready in time.
The accountability lies in knowing that the sooner you pay back, the sooner another family can be helped. Richter says this is important for "teaching the people biblical principles of good stewardship."
Simply put, "When you teach those Scriptural principles, people really catch on. Especially when they tithe, they begin to see the blessings of God on their life and on their church. Their own dignity is increased, and self-worth, and it really makes them grow in their Christian faith. One of the key parts of FARMS is to see people really discipled through this program."
Want to help?
For information on how you can support their Nagaland-India project, click here.
Richter says if FARMS was able to have $50,000 more in gifts a year, their impact and ability to operate would increase substantially.
Think about it. That's 50 people giving $1000 over the course of the year, or 100 people giving $500. What would it look like if your whole church got involved? Your Bible study group? Your Facebook friends?
Ask God to sustain FARMS and to prepare the harvest of souls they will come in contact with in the future.
(Image by Bibles for China)
China (MNN) -- Hard work and sacrifice is the perfect recipe to touch someone's heart and encourage them.
Bibles for China recognizes that the right attitude is also necessary to make an impact on people in China during their Bible verification trips.
Barry Werner of Bibles for China explains that while they cannot call their mission trips distribution trips, "We do distribute Bibles, but we don't look at it as a Bible distribution trip because in China, only the CCC, the China Christian Council, can actually distribute Bibles."
Bibles for China is invited by the CCC to verify this distribution and to celebrate with the Christians as they receive their Bibles.
The next trip is taking place next month.
Before every trip, volunteer teams go through a short briefing to go over things they should and should not do and say while in China. Many of these don'ts fall under the category of politics.
Bibles for China also encourages teams to focus on what unifies them with the national Christians, and not the differences between the Western Church and the Chinese Church--or any political topics, for that matter. Namely, they are encouraged to focus on Christ, the whole point of the Bible distribution.
On the trip, teams get to go see where the Bibles are printed, meet their team leader and translator, then spend three days distributing/verifying Bibles and celebrating with other Christians. They have a final day to debrief and go sightseeing.
Werner says it's "just one day to let our hearts settle back down and prepare us for the culture shock we'll have when we come back into America after seeing a church that's so alive in China--come back and not every church is quite as on fire in America."
The work these teams do for three days is quite astonishing. "We try to have each team distribute between 5,000-6,000 Bibles in a 3-day period, usually to maybe 12 or 15 churches," Werner explains. "These churches are quite spread out; they're rural churches, so you might travel for an hour from one church to another."
The teams leave early in the morning and get back late at night, sacrificing sleep in order to bring joy to remote churches. Werner says often times they return to a late meal with their host. While team members would often prefer to hurry through their meal and get to bed, Werner explains that meals with fellow Christians in China is a valuable connection point.
He says, "The days are long, and sometimes they get extended even when you think they might not need the extension. They still get extended just to have this social moment."
The trip is taking place in November. While it's too late to join this one, it is never too late to pray for God's blessing over the trip.
Werner says, "Every team needs to have stamina. The health issues can be amazing with the travel, and so pray for good health. We'll do the work either way, but it's difficult to do it when you're not feeling well.
"Pray for a humble spirit, a servant's heart. Everywhere we go, we hear words like, 'We almost have wondered if God had forgotten about us. But then we realized, when He sent someone halfway around the word to deliver a Bible to us--His Word, that He hasn't forgotten."
Werner says it is important for those who go on trips with Bibles for China to remember they are doing God's work to build up the Church and to serve fellow believers. This enables them to be a witness to the people around them.
For more opportunities to support Bibles for China, click here.
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Australia)
Iraq (MNN) -- The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is still advancing.
Since their offensive attacks began four months ago, ISIS has given followers of Christianity who live in the towns they take a choice: convert to Islam, pay a tax to remain in these communities as Christians, leave, or ultimately die.
For the Muslim-Background Believers, regardless of their choice, militants have ruthlessly attacked or killed them anyway.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians fleeing before the ISIS onslaught are at risk of freezing or starving to death. They can't go home. They can't move anywhere else because of the presence of ISIS. It begs the question: Is there a future for Christians in Iraq?
Christian communities that survived for almost 2,000 years in the country are on the brink of extinction as they are forced to leave their homes. The fate of Christians in Syria mirrors what happened in Iraq in the last decade.
Many are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depression is rampant in the refugee settlements. Erbil and Dohuk are filled with haunted faces. Government aid isn't reaching many. Smaller Non-Government Organizations are trying to reach those who've fallen through the cracks, but it seems like there are more fissures than solid ground for these survivors.
(Image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs USA)
Money to help isn't pouring in…and cutbacks are starting to take effect. So who will speak for their desperate situation? How about the two faith groups most targeted by ISIS in the Middle East?
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "This is the first time that Jewish leaders, the leader of the World Jewish Congress, as well as evangelical Christian leaders, the president of Oral Roberts University, came together to speak about Christian persecution." Prominent leaders of both groups representing global organizations signed a historic joint initiative this month calling on world leaders to take action against ISIS, and to do more to protect the vulnerable populace. "The two groups SHOULD be working together. They SHOULD be speaking out together because they both are at risk as radical Islam gains influence and gains power."
The announcement came during the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorates the 40-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Nettleton explains that the public announcement sends a message to the world: "Both of them say, 'This is important. We all need to speak out about this, particularly the situation for Christian minorities in the Middle East, (and) the persecution that they're facing under the threat of radical Islam in that part of the world."
Noting that the press conference did not include speeches from foreign dignitaries or heads of state, aside from the president of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Nettleton says that's exactly the point. "The hope is that this will draw even more attention to the issue. It will draw Christians and Jews to really work side-by-side, to really speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians, influence our governments, speak about Christian persecution, and stand up for religious freedom in that part of the world."
An estimated 800,000 Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq have been affected by the advancement of ISIS, and many have been forced to flee their homes to avoid genocide. VOM is currently assisting thousands of Christians in Iraq by sending humanitarian items like clothing, water, and food supplies.
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
"We have a program called Action Packs--a humanitarian aid pack. It contains some clothing items and some other items," explained Nettleton in an earlier interview with the Christian Post. He went on to say, "We do give Bibles to Iraqi Christians, so there is a spiritual dimension as well. The greatest need right now with all they're going through is food, shelter, water--kind of the basics."
Most importantly, when you pray, pray not only that the followers of Christ stay strong, but also that God would change the hearts of the terrorists.
This group of tribal believers is receiving Christianleadership and discipleship training.(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
Vietnam (CAM/MNN) -- Being a Christian in Vietnam is difficult. The head of a team of Vietnamese evangelists has survived torture and the threat of being killed in prison, but that has only reinforced his determination to get the Gospel to ethnic groups who have never heard the message.
"There is no price too high to pay for the honor of proclaiming Christ. I just do it for God," said *Su, the director of an indigenous ministry helped by Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions.
Religious freedom remains spotty in Vietnam. Many churches eschew registration because of the controls and interference it brings, and officials have been slow to register others that do apply. Worshiping "illegally" becomes one pretext for imprisonment; Su knows of 68 Christians in northern Vietnam in hard-labor camps because of their faith, and he also has been imprisoned at various times.
"He's been through all that himself," said one team member. "He got malaria, he got eczema from head to toe, he was beaten from head to toe in a high security prison with no light."
Su was imprisoned for proclaiming Christ, as the government associated it with subversion from abroad.
"It was only because he was talking about the Gospel," one of Su's team members said. "The gospel was considered American religion, so it was assumed that if you brought it into the country, you supported America and worked for the CIA.
(Photo credit Open Doors USA)
"The authorities began killing prisoners. There were seven cells, and he was in the seventh cell. They went in order: one, two, three, four, five, six, each one getting shot and killed. But for some reason they stopped at his cell. Somehow God saved his life."
Continual persecution is only strengthening Su's faith.
"The biggest challenge is to reach the 22 unreached people groups, because they're on the border of China and Vietnam, and there are a lot of security issues," Su said in a recent interview. "In order to reach them, you have to have a connection on the inside, and that can be hard to get because the relationship between Vietnam and China has had tension in the last several months."
Reaching the Lost
Su and his team have planted hundreds of churches elsewhere, especially among highland tribes, where thousands of people who once followed multiple gods and spirits now worship Christ. With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, Su and his teams have planted churches and trained tribal pastors to disciple others, continually multiplying churches.
"They always believe; they are always seeking a higher power," Su said of the animist tribes in the highlands. "When we talk about the God of all the gods, they are attracted. They worship the trees, they worship whatever, and we're saying, 'This is the God who is a lot bigger than your god.'"
Evangelists pray for an ethnic Khmu whohas decided to put his trust in Christ. (Photo, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
One people group Su's teams have reached is the Khmu, whose traditional animism dictates refraining from violating certain taboos-- touching an altar or amulet in a house, for example--that might exact the vengeance of spirits. Appeasing the rice goddess with ritual dancing is a common practice in hopes of a productive harvest.
"There was a Khmu tribal group with a population of about 60,000, and no believers whatsoever," said Su. "There was a boy whose parents passed away, and he was adopted by another tribal group, a Christian group. When he was 20, he went back to the Khmu and boldly preached the gospel. Now there is a church there because of that one young man."
Su and his teams of Vietnamese evangelists have begun the process of making contact with unreached people groups.
"You have to have a connection. If you are asked [at a checkpoint] where you are going, where you will stay, you have to have a connection. You have to know someone there, because you will stay in their house. You have to register with the local police force, too."
Just arriving for a long-term stay where the unreached groups live, then, presents a potential risk for families that might host him or his team. Evangelists make short-term visits to the areas, enabling them to get past check-points with greater ease, in order to establish relationships.
"There's always a festival or a common market where all these tribes get together and sell their goods," said Su. "So what a pastor would do to get into a particular tribal group would be to go to this market to find specific people and get connected. And after a few times, he can ask if they can come and visit."
Establishing such relationships is a long process, but there are four or five market gatherings and one festival each month, so there are many opportunities to meet people.
Although the government has mandated that tribal people learn Vietnamese for the past decade, they prefer to speak their own languages, and the evangelists use the short-term visits to improve their language skills.
"The communists hope the youngsters will become the new leaders of their villages by learning Vietnamese," continued Su. "The understanding among them is that you cannot be a Christian. They will watch you and report you."
Motorcycles enable evangeliststo reach many people in remote areas.(Photo, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
Besides the cultural and security obstacles, the director said he also must overcome resource limitations in order to extend the gospel to unreached peoples. Sending a missionary costs $100 a month.
The ministry is also in critical need of motorcycles. Three purchased with assistance from Christian Aid Mission 10 years ago need to be replaced, and another five would enable them to bring the gospel to an unreached group.
Motorcycles are crucial. Otherwise missionaries are forced to ride a bicycle or travel by foot. In those cases, they cannot reach as many people. Often they double up on one motorcycle, being dropped off in one village as the driver continues on to the next. If they reach the leader of a village and he becomes a Christian, much or even the entire village will convert as well.
Help Su's ministry get the resources they need here.
*Name changed for security reasons
Ukraine (SGA) -- Editor's Note: Although Ukraine's national government and separatists agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks six weeks ago, Donetsk remains under siege. Lives remain on hold. With so much uncertainty, people are desperate for hope. Enter: the body of Christ in Ukraine. What follows is the latest report from Slavic Gospel Association on their response in Ukraine.
(Photo courtesy Slavic Gospel Association)
One of the key principles the Lord Jesus stressed to His disciples is that the world will know we are His followers by the love we exhibit toward one another. As the people of eastern Ukraine live day to day with their ongoing deep political, economic, and humanitarian crisis, the people of God are serving as the vanguard of His love and help. Through your support of SGA’s Crisis Evangelism Fund, tons of aid are on the move and are helping the churches to have tremendous ministry opportunities!
SGA’s Sergei Omelchenko and the staff of their Regional Ministry Center in Kiev have been working closely with Pastor Valery Antonyuk, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Union. Sergei reports that much is happening with key churches as the hubs for distribution:
Vehicles loaded with food have already been to the eastern regions, and we are planning to send more vehicles soon. One will head to a town in the Donetsk region (where heavy fighting has been raging despite an official ceasefire) and another to the Lugansk region. Right now, refugees in the cities of Zhitomir and Zaporozhye are asking for winter clothing, and the local believers are helping them with funds sent by SGA partners.
The onset of winter is a serious concern, and many families remain without electricity, water, and other essentials. Churches and SGA-sponsored Bible schools have been helping to house refugees and have provided mattresses, bed linens, and other materials. SGA is now looking into the provision of emergency heaters and other winter needs. As always, the churches and ministry teams will be well-equipped with Bibles and other evangelistic literature to share the Gospel with those seekers whose lives have been devastated by the conflict.
Because of the violence, many have been forced to flee the region, and the faithful pastors and church members who remain are in need of support during these difficult days. According to Sergei, the brothers who were forced to move their families to safety are doing their best to continue on with ministry despite being refugees themselves. One pastor is already working on becoming a church planter in the Kiev region, yet he hopes to be able to return to the east in the spring.
We thank all SGA partners who have helped make these outreaches possible, meeting people at the point of their deepest physical and spiritual need. Please continue to pray for all who have been affected, for the ministry plans and needed resources, and for lasting peace to return to Ukraine.
(Map credit VOM Canada)
Cuba (MNN) -- Christianity is spreading like wildfire in Cuba despite continued persecution. According to Operation World, "Recovery has taken a long time, but the Church is now a force to be reckoned with. Protestants alone more than doubled between 1995 and 2010."
A microloan program initiated by WorldServe Ministries Canada is playing a key role in the growth by empowering Cuban believers and enabling Gospel work.
"Let's say you want to start a business as a seamstress," proposes WorldServe Canada's Wilfred Unrau, Director of Teams and Community Development. His areas of responsibility include Cuba and Ethiopia.
"You knew how to sew, but you didn't have the tools. We'd come alongside you, we'd lend you a microloan. But with that, we'd like to challenge you to tithe to your church to do church plants and/or children's ministry."
Persecution in Cuba
Under Fidel Castro's dynasty, which lasted from 1959 to 2008, Communist rule was instituted and had a devastating effect on Cuba's evangelical churches. While its severity has largely decreased, believers still face trouble for claiming the name of Christ.
"One of our people had to flee because of the persecution there," Enrau shares. And yet, "Cuba has the longest-sustained revival [in] recorded history, at this point."
(Photo credit WorldServe Canada)
Bible distribution is still a large part of WorldServe Canada's ministry in Cuba, which also includes equipping and supporting national pastors, funding children's camps, microloans, and providing disaster relief aid. Enrau says WorldServe Canada recently distributed 52,000 Bibles to church partners.
"That was just a real 'God thing' that [it] happened," he shares, noting that Cuba is still technically closed to evangelism.
Years of oppression and persecution is fueling today's rampant Gospel growth. Cubans are hungry for the Truth of Scripture, which makes WorldServe Canada's provision of resources, training, and financial opportunity a literal Godsend.
"They need to feel empowered; they need to feel that God has called them to do [ministry]," Enrau says, adding that the microloan project is a big help in this area.
WorldServe Canada's children's ministry partner in Cuba recently sent them pictures, writing: "It is unusual for these forgotten children to receive gifts. But God is sending us there, wherever there are children who feel forgotten....We will be there to give hope & life & gladness in Jesus name!"(Image, quote courtesy WorldServe Canada)
"The New Pines congregation that we're working with has a new church plant every 3 or 4 days right now in Cuba. It is really, really cool to see how they grab this 'hand up' mentality, [instead of] a hand out."
Learn more about the microloan program and how you can help WorldServe Canada reach Cubans for Christ by visiting their Web site.
"Join us in partnership as we try to fund the microloans in those places and empower the people," says Enrau.
Find more Cuba stories here.
International (MNN) -- A number of U.S. pastors are being asked for their sermons. The requests are not coming from people eager to read the sermons, but they are coming from the City of Houston, Texas, in the form of subpoenas.
According to reports, the subpoenas were issued by Houston's city attorney in response to a lawsuit filed by opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that allows men and women who identify as transgender or opposite sex to use the facilities--such as restrooms--of their choice.
Those subpoenas were recently amended to say "speeches" instead of sermons. But, either way, most Americans are asking the question: "Isn't this a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?"
Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson.
President of Reach Beyond Wayne Pederson says, Yes. "It would be quite a precedent when sermons given in church have to be turned over to the courts; that's just an unprecedented thing. It's almost unbelievable that it would happen in our country. It's a violation of the First Amendment and separation of church and state."
While this seems like an unprecedented situation, Pederson says it may be small in light of what's happening to Christians in other parts of the world. "Jesus promised we would be persecuted and we would be monitored and scrutinized. Jesus said, 'There will be times you will be hated because of Me.'"
As we get ready to remember the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 2, Pederson says in many countries it's difficult just to be a Christian. In some places, Pederson says, "Christians don't even acknowledge each other publicly on the streets. E-mails are constantly monitored. Web access is constantly monitored. Cell phone calls are monitored."
If Christians are discovered in some countries, Pederson says, "Many times they're arrested, put in jail, interrogated, intimidated. Sometimes they lose their jobs. Sometimes they're kicked out of their homes and families. Sometimes they're kicked out of the country, even beaten and killed."
Pederson says while individuals in the United States have the right to be a Christian, in many parts of the world, they have no rights.
According to Pederson, this isn't all bad news. "Where there's persecution, the church grows. Some of the fastest growing churches in the world are in Iran and Afghanistan," says Pederson.
Reach Beyond works in many areas where persecution of Christians is common. Pederson says, "We are continuing to do social media in that part of the world. We're very limited in what we can do in traditional broadcasts. But our partners are beginning to do radio broadcasts that are streamed 24/7 that are reaching that part of the world."
Your support is needed to help facilitate more of this type of outreach, which is seeing success. If you'd like to help Reach Beyond with this cutting edge outreach, click here.
Nigeria (MNN/WWM) -- 276 schoolgirls from Nigeria were abducted in April by Boko Haram. After more than 180 days in captivity and a long deafening silence of limited information, word has come: the Nigerian government and Islamists signed a ceasefire agreement, and there is hope that the girls will be released as early as Monday.
As there has been little information about the girls, there have been presumptions that some of them were forced into slavery or into marriage. It is known that a few girls escaped, but still over 200 girls are still in captivity.
CNN reported that a man who claimed to be the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the girls into slavery, saying, “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”
However, during the negotiations for the ceasefire, Danladi Ahmadu, who says he is the Boko Haram’s secretary-general, said that the girls were in good condition and unharmed.
The Nigerian chief of defence, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, made the announcement. Boko Haram has remained silent, causing worries and doubt by some.
World Watch Monitor reports that this is not the first negotiation of returning the girls. In May, an Australian mediator named Stephen Davis came within 15 minutes of winning the release of some of the girls before the deal dissolved.
Davis reported that he had contacts among the militants and made calls asking if they had the girls, which they confirmed. Davis told the president he would attempt to intervene and help the girls get out.
The Boko Haram commanders and Davis came to an agreement which included a list of conditions. They wanted the Nigerian military to stand down; then they promised to drop the girls in a village before phoning to give their exact location.
24 hours before the promised release, the Nigerian police offered a reward of several million Naira. This seemed to have set off reverberations within Boko Haram, and the day after, the girls were not released
Davis told World Watch Monitor that there are politicians involved with the Boko Haram and that “the political sponsors are very powerful because they supply the finances and the arms. Until these are cut off from the group, those girls will not be released.”
Davis says he prefers to wait and see what happens because he doesn’t trust the Nigerian politicians.
CNN reports analyst Richard Joseph from the Brookings Institution saying, "This is a case when we will actually need to see the girls emerging from their six-month confinement before we can truly believe.”
Open Doors USA asks for prayer that the Lord will, in His time, allow the girls to be released and that He will protect them. Finally, pray that the girls' faith will be an example to others and to their captors.
(Image by Ron Hutchcraft Ministries)
Int'l (MNN) -- The internet is a battlefield. The question is: what kind of warrior are you? Who are you fighting for?
Do you think we're being dramatic?
We spoke with Ron Hutchcraft of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries about the danger and opportunity that skip alongside the internet.
The internet to support a cause
Hutchcraft says, "There are some people right now who are very effectively using the internet. They are recruiting young men from around the world, they are inspiring them to take action that they never thought they would take--to leave where they are and be a part of the army that they are building. They're doing it so successfully, and their name is ISIS."
Through their use of social media, Hutchcraft says, "They are experiencing unbelievable growth with an agenda that is butchery and fanaticism and barbaric atrocities."
It's important to understand (and not underestimate) the power of the internet and social media to drive a cause like that of ISIS forward. Christians should take note of this.
"If you do it well, you can get the attention and capture the hearts of people for a cause," Hutchcraft says, "Well, hello! We represent the greatest cause on the planet. In Christ we have the hope that the world is looking for, we have the love the world is looking for."
Hutchcraft reminds us that Jesus said before the end of the world there would be an explosion of wickedness and an explosion of the spread of the Gospel.
"Sin always fascinates you, and then…"
The internet has certainly played a role in both of these things as it interconnects people in a way that's never been possible before.
While it is very obviously a tool for ISIS more recently, the power of the internet to draw people into darkness is not a new concept.
Hutchcraft says just look: "The internet today is doing everything from recruiting terrorists to getting pornography slaves."
Since its birth, the internet has successfully drawn men and women into sexual sin. It has glorified a twisted version of God's creation and honored the pursuit of sin of all kinds.
Hutchcraft says people often slip into enslavement to these things rather innocently. Other times, it's a small decision made on a slippery slope that captures the attention and devotion of an internet user.
"Sin always fascinates you, and then it assassinates you," Hutchcraft says.
Where do you fit in?
The responsibility of a follower of Christ is really a two-sided coin. For starters, they have to protect themselves. "We really need to be very careful because the internet is loaded with ambushes," Hutchcraft says.
As with any battle, Christians need to have defensive tactics. And they need have an offensive plan, as well.
The other side of the coin--the offense--is proactivity in presenting the Gospel through the internet so that it is in reach of all people around the world. This is done through social media, Web sites, blogs, and videos.
Hutchcraft says no soldier is better equipped for this task than millennials who have a heart for Christ. Not only are they burdened for lost people, but they grasp the culture and know how to reach people.
Christians do need to be careful how they approach this task, says Hutchcraft. "Facebook is not a preaching medium. It's a networking, friendship-building medium. But you can, on occasion, give a personal story of how Jesus has made the difference for you."
Hutchcraft says to pray for opportunities to turn people's attention to Jesus through Facebook and other internet sites.
Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, for example, uses its blogs to share stories of hope. Check out examples here at On Eagles' Wings and A New Story.
Stories have the power of connecting people who would otherwise never have anything in common.
Hutchcraft says through whatever media is used, there is a responsibility to make the content compelling, respectful, gentle, and true, following the pattern set out in 1 Peter 3:15.
Intentionality on the internet is very important and something that perhaps most users are without.
It starts in prayer, as Hutchcraft explains: "It really is an important thing we should be praying for. If we are going to represent Christ, as we must because all of us who are involved in any way on the internet, whether it's e-mail or YouTube or Facebook or whatever, we all have been given a platform to do whatever we want to do with."
1 Peter 3:15 calls us to be ready to share our reason for hope. What better way to honor Christ and be gentle with our audience than to share our own story?
"One thing people will listen to is your personal hope story that tells how what Christ deid on the cross made all the difference for you as a dad or a mom or a friend or cancer patient or a single person or a lonely person or a depressed person or an addicted person.
"You're the living proof that Christ can change what nobody else could've changed, that as God gives opportunity, you pray that God will open a door and then open your mouth to use these tools for him," Hutchcraft says.
A prayer for all of us
The following is an excerpt of Hutchcraft's prayer for followers of Christ.
"We pray that You would give us, first of all, discernment so that we do not under any circumstances ever allow […] sin to take hold in our lives, please, through these powerful media.
"But by the same token, Lord, we pray that You'd put in our hearts a desire to capture the potential of this, for we will not forfeit these powerful platforms to the enemy. If we don't show up with Jesus, we have forfeited, and we will not forfeit this battle.
"For the One who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. So would You give us a vision, give us an approach, give us the love, give us the burden, give us the wisdom, and give us the courage to use these media skillfully, gently, respectfully, lovingly, to share our Jesus with our world."
(Photo credit Stephan via Flickr)
North Korea (MNN) -- Nine days ahead of scheduled high-level talks between North and South Korea, saber-rattling has caused military tensions to skyrocket.
Minor skirmishes on the border over the weekend created North Korean bluster of an "unpredictable" retaliatory strike against South Korea. And the talks are not set in stone. The talks were scheduled for October 30, but the North has yet to respond to the request.
At the same time, there are questions about leadership within the hermit kingdom. Dictator Kim Jong-Un was out of the public eye for six weeks, missing high level meetings and the country's anniversary. The timing is hard to read, but speculation abounds.
Greg Musselman, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says first, "When there are high level meetings with South Korea, what's going on there? Why has he been out of sight for so long? Really, it's hard to know what's actually taking place."
However, an inside contact says that Kim Jong-Un is still in control. He made two public appearances just last week, although if his physical appearance is any indication, he may be recovering from an illness or injury.
Still, there's a lot of ground to cover before anything can move forward diplomatically. Musselman says the bad economy may force their hand. "If they're going to have legitimate talks, one of the first things that come up is their human rights violations--not only against Christians but anybody considered a political 'enemy of the state;' they're tortured, executed."
Specifically, says Musselman, "They have been heavily criticized by the UN and human rights
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
organizations for their human rights violations, so they're trying to soften that. If they're going to get anywhere with getting economic help from outside, they're going to have to present a better image." In fact, in response to a rights abuse report issued earlier this year from the United Nations Human Rights Council, North Korea blamed Christian discipleship bases located in northeast China for influencing their citizens.
How did Christians become the scapegoat of North Korea's woes? Under the ideology of Juche, the only acceptable religion is "Kim-Il-Sungism." Musselman explains, "The reason the Christians are so singled out and targeted is because they're the ones, really, that can expose this false religion, the worship of the Kim family and the dynasty there. Christians are heavily persecuted. They are 'enemies of the state.'"
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
Despite the challenges, VOMC is partnering with a Korean ministry reaching into North Korea. "We're broadcasting the Gospel on shortwave radio. There are balloon launches that go in there: gospel tracts are in these balloons, and people are finding them and reading them." In the broadcasts, Scriptures are read and dramatized. They also read from books on Christian persecution to help underground believers there understand why they face the challenges they do and how to bear up under them. There are an estimated 2 million North Koreans who tune into their illegal radios each evening.
Because of the desperate circumstances in North Korea, people are open to anything that brings hope. Some Christians share their Christ story whenever the opportunity comes up, occasionally, even as they were being taken to prison. "They would start to share the Gospel with fellow prisoners, the non-Christians. Many of them were responding to the Gospel. As a result of that, when it became known to the authorities, they were having the Christians executed before they got there."
Coming alongside the persecuted church of North Korea means prayer. Musselman reminds us that "in spite of all the obstacles that the North Korean government puts up, they can't stop the work of the Gospel, and the Kingdom continues to go forward."
VOMC asks you to pray for the 50,000-70,000 Christians imprisoned in labor camps: ask God to sustain them.
Pray that God would change the heart of Kim Jong-Un and use him to reform the country. Pray for protection for Open Doors workers and contacts bringing practical and spiritual support to believers.
USA (MNN/BOC) -- Piles of waterproof sandals flooded out of trucks and overflowing boxes. Buckner International Shoes for Orphan Souls, an organization dedicated to providing shoes and socks for orphans and vulnerable children worldwide, received an incredible donation from Niagara University.
29,244 sandals were delivered to Buckner on August 1. This is the first donation of a long-term partnership between Buckner and the Sandal Falls Project.
The Sandals Falls Project was started by a student-led business club at Niagara University known as B.O.L.D. (Business Organizational Leadership Development).
B.O.L.D worked with the community outreach branch from their university, Rev. Joseph Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement.
Together they collected sturdy, waterproof sandals that were purchased by tourists at Niagara Falls who would wear the sandals for only a few hours. Business students and club members volunteered to sanitize, sort, and bag the sandals.
“The students are passionate about this project and work hard during the school year to organize student work groups that make this possible,” said Yvette Suarez, institute coordinator at Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement. “It has been our prayer that we would find a partnership that helps us reach the less fortunate, and now the students can focus more effectively at continuing the process. This relationship with Buckner gives them an outlet to do what they set out to do because Buckner is a tangible organization meeting a tangible need.”
Buckner will be donating the sandals, along with nearly 500 other donated shoes, to Rio Grande Valley for migrant children crossing the Texas border.
“The timing of this donation is an answer to prayer for our team and will allow us to serve even more children who are crossing the Texas-Mexico border seeking refuge in the United States,” said Ashley Williamson, Shoes for Orphan Souls manager. “We pray that the sandals will remind these children of the Lord’s love and provision for them in the midst of so much uncertainty.”
To donate to Buckner International, click here.
Pray for the sandals to be delivered successfully and to be a reminder of the Lord’s love for the migrant children of Rio Grande Valley.
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Soul Motor)
International (MNN) -- If you walk into a store right now in the United States, you see evidence of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all mishmashed together.
The retail creep on the buying seasons for gift-giving opportunities is so prevalent that people are starting to look for more meaningful alternatives.
One of those alternatives is charity gift catalogs. The items shown in these catalogs give shoppers the chance to buy a sheep for a family or to educate a girl instead of buying a Cuisinart or an iPhone. Gift catalogs are attractive because they're almost always "gifts in action." People want to see exactly how their gift will effect change.
Far Corners Missions President Gary Bishop explains that that desire for connection is normal. "One of the questions people ask is, 'What's the greatest gift that's ever been given?' People say, 'It's life itself, it's (one thing or another).' But I think all believers would agree that the greatest gift that's ever been given is Jesus."
When put into that context, sharing that gift becomes part of a mandate because it's all about the Gospel. "It's the same thing that Jesus would do: loving and caring for people. That's what the Giving Book does. It gives people the chance to do a specific thing for [people] on the other side of the world that have no way to provide for themselves, to give them an important gift."
(Photo Giving Book 2013, courtesy Far Corners Missions)
Through national partners, Far Corners is able to resource nine different countries: China, England, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, and Thailand. Bishop uses India as an example of what a difference a single gift can make. "You can give a Telagu Bible to somebody in India for $4. But you can also give them a water buffalo, and that costs $1300." Or for $6, someone could ensure that a daycare child gets meals for a month. Bishop observes, "If we go to McDonald's, we would spend almost $6 per person. You can feed a daycare child in India for a whole month for that $6. Or for $6, you can give a widow a 5kg bag of rice."
From health care to job training to spiritual equipping, Far Corners has a variety of ways to immediately impact lives. "Other people pass by them every day and don't concern themselves with them, or would do anything to avoid contact with these people. And so their very natural question is, 'Why are doing this for us?'" That question allows the local believer to turn the discussion to the hope of Christ. "That gives us the great opportunity to say, 'It is only because of Jesus' love,' and that allows us to tell them the story of Jesus."
(Photo courtesy Far Corners Missions)
The community at large sees transformation through feeding programs, medical outreaches, rescue operations, and educational programs, along with evangelical activities like church plants and pastoral training. It all goes toward investing in relationships, both now and in the future. "They know that the Church in India is the conduit through which all that comes to them. That's really what we want them to know: God's Church in India is responsible for getting that help to them."
All you have to do to get started is request a copy of The Giving Book.
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs USA)
Pakistan (MNN) -- Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five children, lost her appeal with the Lahore High Court in Pakistan on Thursday. It means her death sentence on a blasphemy conviction stands.
The Voice of the Martyrs USA says her lawyers now have 30 days to file an appeal with Pakistan's Supreme Court in Islamabad, the highest court in the land. It starts into motion a long appeal process that is expected to take years of more waiting.
During the hearing, nearly 2,000 mullahs gathered outside the court to put pressure on the judges. When she learned the outcome, Asia Bibi told VOM contacts, “Please do something. It’s been so long, and I want to be with my children.” Many humanitarian advocates warn that even if the court should rule in Bibi's favor, she may be made an assassination target for Muslim extremists.
Bibi has been convicted of blasphemy for drinking from the same bowl of water as Muslims and making derogatory comments about the prophet Muhammad. According to the original VOM report:
On Friday, June 19, 2009, there was an intense discussion among the women about their faith.
The Muslim women told Asia about Islam. Asia responded by telling them about her faith in Christ. Asia told the Muslim women Christ had died on the cross for sins, then asked them what Mohammad had done for them, according to VOM sources. She told them that Jesus is alive, but Mohammad is dead. “Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she reportedly told them, “and yours is not true.”
She was beaten and later taken into custody, then charged under the blasphemy law.
Found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, this wife and mother has been on death row for almost four years. The court process has been agonizingly slow. Thursday's decision was delayed five times this year.
Pray that Asia will not lose heart but would continue to look to Jesus for daily strength and grace. May her worried family members and other loved ones be granted much patience and peace as they support this dear sister in Christ during her time of trial.
Pray that God will be present in every detail of preparation for the upcoming hearing so it may go smoothly and result in Asia's freedom from prison.
Finally, please also pray for the many other Christians in Pakistan who are facing blasphemy charges or other false allegations because of their love for Jesus Christ.
India (MNN) -- Short-term missions are a great tool and opportunity to get involved in spreading the Gospel globally. However, it is important to begin this venture with the right attitude and the right expectations. Otherwise, the entire point of the trip could be missed.
India Partners is an organization that ministers to widows and vulnerable people in India. They assist in church planting, establish long-term and self-sustaining micro loan projects, and share the truth of Jesus Christ even in prisons.
(Photo Courtesy of India Partners)
Remo Paul is a national partner of India Partners who works with short-term mission teams on a regular basis. He gets to see the blessings of the trips but also recognizes there are things every person should consider before going on a mission trip.
"The success of your short-term teams depend on how and what your expectations are. More often than not, it tends to run into issues when expectations are not right."
Sometimes it's what teams don't expect that will catch them off guard and make their trip less effective than what they originally hoped.
India Partners has a variety of teams help them.
Paul says, "Most often when teams come, they're either dental teams, eye teams, health teams, or there are training teams for pastors that need training in various issues and various aspects of life and ministry."
Paul explains that there are three major benefits to short-term mission trips.
First, he says, "When a team comes to visit us, it's a huge encouragement for us. I don't find words in my vocabulary that explain how that blesses us and encourages us, uplifts us. That would be the primary benefit."
The second benefit is that short-term missions are mutually beneficial.
"Ministry is a two-way street, so it also [in] reverse blesses the team that comes," Paul explains.
The third benefit is that these teams bring in expertise that many long-term missionaries don't have.
Dentistry is an extremely important expertise in some parts of India. Many times, villages are hours and hours away from the nearest dentist. Even if the dentist were closer, most people very likely could not afford treatment.
Since often whatever ails them is not life-threatening, they'll deal with the pain and forgo medical care.
Having a short-term mission dentist will provide these people in need with the care that they would otherwise never get. They might have waited years more for a dentist to establish himself in their village.
While mission trips can often be an eye-opening experience for Christians, there are better and worse ways to prepare for one. One way is to look at how you've engaged your own community right where you are now.
"Any mission starts where you are. So if you are planning on going on a mission trip, you should actually be involved in missions at your local church," Paul says.
If your heart is already prepared for missions, then it's likely to show up in your activity with your home church.
Paul explains that mission work is not dependent on location. "It's in the realm of spirituality that the mission trip actually happens."
Starting at a local level will prepare you for more intense challenges you might meet on the field.
Paul explains that local mission work "gives you the ability to understand how the evil one would try and stop any work."
While not all of India is hostile to the Gospel, many places are. It's important to be prepared for that.
If you know that God is calling you to go with India Partners and that He has prepared your heart for this, click here to contact them.
If you would like to partner with India Partners through prayer or financial giving, click here.
Central African Republic (MNN) -- Six more people were killed late last week, relief groups are stymied, and transportation is at a standstill in the Central African Republic (CAR). While the country has a transitional government, Anti-Balaka rebels continues to seek revenge in the wake of the March 2013 coup by Muslim Seleka rebels.
Internally displaced in Central African Republic(UNHCR photo)
Abuses marred their rule, prompting a backlash from the non-Muslim Anti-Balaka militia and their supporters. That backlash forced Seleka leader Michel Djotodia into exile in January. Catherine Samba Panza was appointed as interim president in the transitional government. However, the revenge killing by Anti-Balaka militia fighters continue, forcing minority Muslims and others into safe havens and refugee camps by the thousands.
The recent attacks have forced taxi service to cease, says Jim Hocking, Founder and President of Water for Good, a partner with Living Water International and Reach Beyond in the CAR. "The [political] temperature of the country is taken by the taxis. When taxis are running, there are problems, but you can [probably] handle it. When the taxis quit running," the situation is dangerous.
That caused difficulties for Water for Good workers. Hocking says, "We had been confined, basically, to the residence in the country. The embassy recommended we don't travel."
Water for Good not only provides water for the people of the CAR as a way to hear the Gospel, but also operates a radio station to help the public.
While their radio station continues operating, the water drill work has all but stopped. "For a little while now, we've had to lay off most of our staff; [we're] just waiting to gain more contracts to drill more water wells. We're still maintaining the water wells, but they do have to be very, very careful."
Water for Life also provides water to a refugee camp near Bangui. However, that work has been turned over to the UN because of the unrest, even they weren't able to provide water for a few days. It's needed now more than ever. Hocking says, "The refugee camp climbed from about 30,000 people to about 40,000 in about two days because of this latest conflict."
The conflict is dangerous for everyone. says Hocking. "There are many Christians, almost on a nightly basis, being robbed and hurt. The whole time I was there, almost every night we would hear of something happening to someone in one of the churches."
Hocking is asking you to pray. "There are people who are really continuing to seek answers. Our Christian leaders need support. They're still being associated Anti-Balaka are non-Muslims. So, it's really a conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim."
When it was time to leave the CAR, Water for Good needed a UN escort. All were able to leave safely.
If you'd like to support Water for Good, Living Water International, or Reach Beyond click on the organization's name.
(Photo courtesy Reach Global)
Liberia (MNN) -- The cost of Liberia's Ebola crisis goes beyond the health emergency. Peggy Maynard, Global Fingerprints Liberia Coordinator, says, "Because the borders are closed, the markets are closed. Food is becoming scarce and very expensive, so it's hard for people to even get enough food to eat. Also, many of the health clinics are closed because people are afraid of Ebola patients coming in.
"We are really focusing on providing our children and our staff with food and healthcare--that's our first priority," Maynard explains. They've made a commitment to the children, plus, keeping the staff healthy means they can focus on priority #2, which she says is "reaching out to the newly-created Ebola orphans."
A recent UNICEF assessment indicates Ebola orphans could double before the end of the month. Recent government data suggests that the average Liberian household had three children, and you can see the dilemma. Maynard clarifies, "The immediate problem is that people are afraid to even go near these children because of Ebola. Then of course, the long-term problem is finding housing and care for these children in a country that has been ravaged by civil war, and now ravaged by this disease."
Kids are emerging as the most vulnerable group in the Ebola crisis in three ways: they're at risk of contracting the disease, being orphaned by it, or losing their options for a future/education. Maynard says that's why they set up the Ebola Crisis Response Fund. "We partner with the Evangelical Free Church of West Africa, which is based in Monrovia, but they reach out across Liberia and even into the neighboring countries. They have seized this opportunity to reach out into new communities with information about Ebola, with sanitation supplies and with hope."
Why the Church? Maynard muses, "Crisis brings out the needs in people. People, I think, are more responsive to the Gospel in a time when they are in fear for their lives." Because of the compassion that comes with the Great Commission, Christians are eager to share their hope in Christ. "They see this as an opportunity to actually plant churches. They are looking at this as an opportunity for ministry rather than a tragedy."
(Photo courtesy Reach Global)
How do they do this? "We are reaching out to people's needs--their physical needs, but at the same time, we are reaching out to them with the Gospel and trying to meet their eternal needs. We feel that we can do both. It doesn't have to be one or the other."
In this time of crisis, sponsorship makes a huge difference. It provides for a child’s daily meals, medical attention, and an education. "We are in the process now of finding those orphans [and] entering them into our Global Fingerprints system so that people can sponsor them for $35 a month."
This is the message a sponsorship sends: "You are cared for, and you belong.” Maynard says it could be the most important response the Church takes in this crisis. "This is our long-term solution to the problem: to get those children into homes and make sure that their needs are met, and at the same time making sure that they hear the Gospel and that they're getting into a local church."
Pray for wisdom: Global Fingerprints Liberian staff members are dealing directly with Ebola families. "We're just praying for an end to Ebola. God can work miracles. He can do anything. He was not surprised by this. We were surprised by it, but He wasn't surprised by it."
Donations to the EFCA Ebola Crisis Response fund and child sponsorships in Liberia provide both the short-term and the long-term response to the emergency.