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Dagestan extremist opens fire on Russian Orthodox Church

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 05:02:39 -0500

Russia (MNN) – Last Sunday, an Islamic extremist opened fire at a Russian church during a time of festivities. Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith shares: “Basically as we understand it, there were five women killed at a shooting. And it was actually an Orthodox church in Dagestan. And then you have five other people, including a police officer and a guardsmen that were injured. Apparently, the security forces were able to shoot and kill the attacker at the scene. And it was a young 22-year-old Dagestan native that did this.” Violence in Dagestan Shortly after, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. However, this is just one of the many instances of terrorist violence that’s taken place across this region in the past couple decades. With that said, it’s a dangerous area, especially for Christians, and ministry has to be conducted discreetly. (Photo Courtesy of Un Bolshakov via Flickr “The Gatestone Institute put together a pretty good article back in 2014, and I’m sure it’s still the case only a few years later. But it was called, 'Dagestan: The New Epicenter of Muslim Terrorism in Russia.'" Griffith says. "And I guess that you know Dagestan—it’s the largest republic that’s in that North Caucuses region, they’re saying that it’s possibly the most violent spot in the entire Russian Federation.” However, the recent violence doesn’t mean the Russian government hasn’t been trying to tame the terrorist actions in the region—because it has. It’s even harder to suppress jihadists in Dagestan than it is in Chechnya, which was recently recognized for making Russia fertile ground for ISIS recruitment. It’s clear extremist violence and terror attacks are an ongoing matter. In modern history as far back as the 1972 Olympics held in Munich, Israeli athletes and coaches were slaughtered in what became the Munich Massacre. This was one of the first times a terror attack was broadcasted in the media. In the present day, we have entire generations who’ve grown up with the terms “Islamic extremist,” “jihadi,” and “terrorist” thrown around in everyday speech. It’s a violence which has become a part of the world’s everyday narrative. Continuing the Conversation So why keep talking about it? Because it reminds us of the urgency to share the Gospel. “We have our marching orders from our Lord and Savior. He said we’re to take the Gospel to every [person], every ethnic group, every nation. You know, we’re supposed to go and make disciples,” Griffith explains. “And I think as the early martyrs of the Church demonstrated, they weren’t intimidated by the threats of force or being put in prison or even killed for their faith. They knew that the Lord would ultimately triumph.” (Photo Courtesy of Un Bolshakov via Flickr It’s also in these regions of extremist violence that Christians still need to share the Gospel because these people, and the people being oppressed by the extremists, need the hope of the Gospel. And while the situation in the region is frightening, the Church's full fruits there might not be seen until eternity. “It could have outcomes that we don’t even realize. It’s vital and important that these areas be reached. And honestly, when you look at the ideology, ultimately faith in Jesus Christ and people being born again is really the only solution for this,” Griffith explains. Supporting the Church After all, no one else can turn hearts from hate to love other than Jesus Christ. So please, will you help support the Russian Church through prayer and financial support? Pray for the safety of Christians in Dagestan and the surrounding areas. Ask that God would raise up more workers to go into these areas, live, and share the redemption story. Pray that God would empower and encourage believers in the area to share their faith with their neighbors. And pray that people would be saved through the bold proclamation of the Gospel. Want to tangibly[...]

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Gospel light for China’s unreached peoples

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 05:01:09 -0500

China (MNN) – After more than 30 years of prayer for China, Bibles For The World (BFTW) has launched their Chinese outreach program. A long season of prayer John Pudaite, president of Bibles For The World, explains that his family’s history is one reason BFTW is passionate about China. “It may go back 800, 1000, 1200 years, but my forefathers migrated out of western or southwestern China, and so for all these years, many, many years, we used to pray that God would open doors for us to distribute His Word in China. It was the prayer of my father’s. We used to look at this and at the same time, dad had always said, this book—the Bible—is the book of the King of Kings. I’m going to take it in through the front door, not through the back door.” So they prayed for a legal way to bring the Gospel to a people who shared their common ancestry. While they waited, Pudaite, his family, and eventually BFTW brought Bibles to other nations legally. But while their ministries grew, BTFW never lost sight of their hope for China. New opportunities Pudaite says, “Finally just a couple years ago the opportunity was presented to us that we could print and distribute Bibles legally inside China. And we were just overjoyed that we would have this opportunity because we could do it legally and at the same time we could reach the largest country in the world that we had been praying about for more than 30 years.” While they knew it was risky because the government or local people might push back, they were encouraged. This opportunity was an answer to years and years of prayer! Finally they could begin Chinese outreach. Reaching the unreached The BFTW team planned partnerships for over a year, raised funds, and prepared to go. They planned to visit southwestern China. This area holds many of China’s, and the world’s, remaining unreached people groups. The Word of God in any form is scarce there and the few Christians that live there are hungry for physical copies of the Scriptures. (Courtesy of BFTW) In May of 2017, BFTW took their first Chinese outreach trip. When they arrived in China they distributed over 12,000 Bibles and 300,000 copies of the Gospel of John. The response was amazing. Local believers were so excited that they took extra copies of John to share with neighbors and friends. They wanted to share the hope that they had found in Christ. BFTW was overwhelmed with the response and knew they had to return to further train and equip people with God’s Word. Returning with more Scriptures Pudaite says, “In this upcoming trip in April we’re going to be going into that southwest region, in the province of Hunan. And I’m very excited. One of the areas that has opened up for us actually has a very high percentage of unreached people. The dominant people group in that area… they’re actually 0.19 percent Christian. And this is just a tremendous opportunity to reach out to this area, to where this people group resides.” Get involved Please pray for the Chinese outreach group heading over in April. They are a small group with a lot to do. Pray that God gives them the energy to work hard and a heightened passion for the Bible. Pray also that Christians around the world would continue to fund BFTW’s Chinese outreach efforts. Help BFTW bring the Word of God to more unreached Chinese peoples by supporting them financially. Or if this ministry excites you, consider going on a BFTW trip to China this coming fall or spring. Get more details here.   [...]

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Reach4Life program impacts millions of teens

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 05:00:46 -0500

International (MNN) -- In 2004, when the HIV/AIDS pandemic was at a high point in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, Biblica developed a prevention program for teens called Reach4Life. Most people can say being a teenager is hard. There are a lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers. And sometimes, churches just simply aren’t equipped or they’re not sure how to engage with the questions and answer them. Reach4Life was born as a solution this. Reach4Life Biblica’s Southern Africa Regional Director Marius Brand shares: “We worked with experts to develop a program and then also a New Testament Bible, which gave young people the resources first of all to be informed about sex and sexuality, and HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, but also to give them the resources, the spiritual resources to deal with the kinds of choices and pressures that young people face.” In the 12 years since Reach4Life was first created, it has grown and expanded across the globe. Today, it’s a full curriculum being used in schools in 24 countries and has been translated into 11 languages. In fact, Reach4Life recently started its first program in the United States. “The Reach4Life Bible is a little New Testament Bible…packed with lots of extra resources in addition to the text of the New International Readers Version of the Bible,” Brand explains. “We have four kinds of resources. The primary one is 40 lessons, so in other words, it is a whole year with the Bible teaching, based on four different journeys. The journeys are 'Believe', 'Grow', 'Live', and 'Change'.” The "Believe” journey provides the Gospel message with 10 lessons. The “Grow” journey details how users can grow in faith and mature spiritually. The “Live” journey gives guidance in how to practically deal with the challenges teens face. And finally, the “Change” journey gives 10 lessons in how to create world change for God’s kingdom. As one can see, Reach4Life doesn’t just teach kids about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, but it also provides a type of life roadmap for living a healthy life both physically and spiritually in Christ. The Reach4Life Bibles also include inserts which answer questions teens may have on sexually related issues including pornography, pregnancy, STIs, sexting, and more. “So it’s all the kinds of things that young people really grapple with but don’t always know who to ask. And then of course, all of this [is] from a Biblical perspective,” Brand explains. Growing, Expanding, Revamping Two years ago the program was revamped and is essentially what Brand calls Reach4Life 2.0 version. The revamp came after Biblica decided to expand the program to include other issues that teenagers and young people face. “In our second version or second edition, we also pay a lot of attention to things like addiction. You know, how to deal with drugs and alcohol. Friends, peer pressure, school work, money, emotional pain, you know, self-image, those kinds of things,” Brand explains. “So all of that has really helped to expand the reach of Reach4Life.” (Photo Courtesy Biblica via Facebook) Over 1 million young people have gone through the Reach4Life program since it began. And in this time, Brand says there has been a lot of positive feedback about the program. “One of the keys to the way we run the program is that almost all the teaching and the discipleship is done by what is called peer educators,” Brand shares. Young persons are trained in how to use the Reach4Life resources and are then able to go into their schools, youth groups, churches, and even prisons and drug rehab centers with the Gospel message and Biblical guidance to living life. Impact for Life One example Brand has is of a girl called Caroline. Caroline is a peer educator and works in the Johannesburg, South Africa program. Here’s the catch that makes Caroline’s story unique—she’s HIV positive. She’s been positive since birth, when she [...]

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Christian from North Korea first heard about God from her torturer

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 05:03:34 -0500

North Korea (MNN) -- Kyung-ja’s* first experience hearing about God in North Korea wasn’t from a missionary or radio broadcast or pamphlet -- but from her torturer. The North Korean guard continued to beat Kyung-ja with a club even as she faded in and out of consciousness. She had snuck into China to try and earn money for food to bring back to her starving family in North Korea. But when Kyung-ja returned to North Korea, she was arrested. Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs USA shares, “Her interrogator kept asking her about God. ‘Did people in China talk to you about God? Did you meet with people who are followers of God? Did you read the book about God while you were in China?’ “Kyung-ja had had no contact with Christians even while she was in China. In fact, she had never heard the name of God and she kept telling the interrogator, ‘I don’t know who that is! I don’t know who you’re talking about!’” (Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA) From there, Kyung-ja was transferred to a labor camp. She asked another prisoner about God, and even her fellow prisoner affirmed there was a God but was too afraid to talk about him in the camp. However, Nettleton says the Holy Spirit planted a seed. “If [God] was so scary to the North Korean guards and the interrogators, maybe he was powerful. She began to pray, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re real. I don’t know who you are. But if you’re there and if you can hear me, can you help me?’ She began to see answers to prayer even in those very simple, early, desperate prayers.” Eventually, Kyung-ja escaped North Korea again. Her daughter had defected to South Korea and when Kyung-ja connected with her on the phone, her daughter was able to answer her questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Kyung-ja is now faithfully following Christ and lives in South Korea where Nettleton met with her. “She has been discipled, she now has been given God’s book so she can read it, and has really come to faith in Christ and understands what that means to have faith in Christ.” When a North Korean man or woman chooses to follow Jesus, they know right from the get-go that it means to dedicate their entire life to him -- because they could very well lose their life for him. Nettleton explains, “They certainly know that being a believer in North Korea is a death sentence. It’s the most dangerous thing you can be in North Korea. The North Korean government views Christians as treasonous, as a threat to their government. So people in North Korea know if you follow Jesus Christ, if you have a Bible, if you are caught listening to a Christian radio broadcast, the likelihood is you are going to die, whether it is by execution immediately or you die in a labor camp.” Currently, the world’s attention is on the Korean peninsula with the Winter Olympics taking place in South Korea until February 25th. But just 50 miles from the Olympic stadium is the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). And past that border, it is illegal to be a Christian or own a Bible. (Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA) “I hope as people are watching the Olympics, it is a constant reminder to pray for North Korea, to pray for the people there. All the people are oppressed, but Christians are oppressed more than anyone else. So pray for our Christian brothers and sisters. There are Christians in North Korea. There are people who are following Christ,” says Nettleton. “The other thing I want to encourage people to do is just to pray for the country as a whole. One of the things that struck me as I was in South Korea meeting with North Korean defectors is how common the stories of death are. It seemed like everybody had lost someone, whether it was someone who had been executed by the government or someone who was sent to a labor camp and they just never heard from them again. They assume they’re dead and, in fact, they kind of hope they’re dead[...]

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India is in spiritual darkness, will you help?

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 05:02:55 -0500

India (MNN) -- India. It’s a country known for giving the world Gandhi, its vibrant festival of color, and spicy curry. But, India’s also a place filled with spiritual darkness. e3 Partner’s Jeff Johnston recently returned from a trip to India where he had a chance to dig into the happenings of the Gospel work there. Experiencing India “You know, I encountered so many people that were so nice, so friendly. Complete strangers that were more than willing to talk to me and share with me about their daily routines, their lives, their culture, what they believe,” Johnston shares. “They were just so welcoming and loving. But, ultimately, even with all that, even though they seemed like 'good people' and they really are, they don’t know Jesus.” In one Indian state, 80 people die every hour having never heard the Gospel. (Photo/Caption courtesy of e3 Partners via Facebook) India is a country filled with poverty, Hindu extremism, and Christian persecution. But, it’s not these things individually which have left the country in the dark. It’s as Johnston said -- these people don’t have the light of Christ. Open Doors USA’s *World Watch List ranks India #11 for the persecution of Christians. Out of its 1.34 billion population, only 63 million people are Christians, according to Open Doors USA. That’s just 4.76 percent of India that knows Christ. But, through relationships, the right to share the Gospel is earned and disciples can be made. This is why e3’s structure is to bring over short-term mission teams who provide a spark to the local people. Trip participants spend time connecting with individuals and sharing the Gospel message. Then, the individuals who are interested in Christ and want to learn more are discipled and plugged into a group of local Christians partnered with e3. Openness to Christ Johnston had the chance to be a spiritual spark on his recent trip. Over the course of one day, he had the chance to talk to 30 people. Not one person turned away from him. “Everyone was just so open and happy to share and talk,” Johnston says. “I got to do it with my friend, Alex, who was there with me. [He] was able to help translate for me when needed and we were able to just kind of talk to these people and…what we found was a lot of the younger generation there…the religious beliefs are there, but only…loosely.” A lot of the younger generation of people Johnston connected with identified Hinduism as their religion. However, many of them didn’t practice. In fact, their religious beliefs seemed based mainly on family and societal influence, and not an actual personal belief. (Image courtesy of e3 Partners) Johnston and Alex also encountered a couple of college students who showed a lot of interest in their conversation about Christ and even asked questions about Jesus. Alex was even able to give them a Bible in the Hindu language and swap contact information so they could meet again. Exponential Growth This was one of Johnston’s favorite parts of the trip -- sharing the Gospel and seeing people respond. What started as just a spark in the lives of Alex and other nationals has turned into a roaring fire of faith. “Ultimately at e3 it’s about pouring into the locals,” Johnston explains. “Pouring into the nationals and training them on how to share the Gospel, how to start churches and make disciples themselves because ultimately, we can’t change the world ourselves. God is the only one who can change the world, and he can use us to do it.” Today it starts with Alex. Tomorrow, the two college students he connects with may bring two more people to Christ and eventually a church is planted. And in time, Christ’s love becomes a movement in the nation. Challenges to the Gospel Still, the challenge remains that India plans to push out all Christians by 2021. Why? Religious nationalism and the notion that India should be completely[...]

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A middle ground for refugees

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 05:01:17 -0500

United States (MNN) – Recently, the Trump Administration lifted the ban on refugees from 11 “high-risk” nations – a ban that was put into effect in October 2017. Yet looking at the Administration’s newest restrictions for refugees, it’s clear the waters haven’t quite settled for those fleeing conflicts. Lowest Admission of Refugees in Years While the yearly admission of refugees into the United States was set at 110,000 in 2016, President Trump cut the number by half to 53,000 when he entered the office. Now, he has cut the admission to only 45,000 refugees a year and made it clear that is the ceiling amount of refugees to be admitted. According to The Washington Post, this is the lowest admission of refugees since 1980 when the Refugee Act was first created. Though the Administration has not specifically named the 11 nations where the ban has been lifted, refugee groups believe they include North Korea and the ten Muslim-majority countries Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. According to the BBC, over the last three years, more than 40 percent of refugees coming to America have fled from these nations. Bethany Christian Services works in refugee resettlement, helping those who have fled war and conflict to find a safe haven once they’ve reached America. Since the ban, they’ve noted the dramatic decrease in refugees coming from these 11 nations. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services via Facebook) Bethany’s President Chris Palusky says, “This was an unprecedented level of how low the level was. So, the administration has allowed in 45,000 refugees...But even this number, 45,000-- it’s kind of being questioned right now. We don’t think you’re going to be able to hit it. We don’t think the Administration is going to be able to hit it with whatever the supreme vetting.” New Screening Measures While the U.S. already has some of the hardest screening in the world, the Administration has stated there will be even more extreme vetting. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says, “These additional security measures will make it harder for bad actors to exploit our refugee program, and they will ensure we take a more risk-based approach to protecting the homeland.” According to the New York Times, current vetting can take up to two years for a refugee to be approved. The screening includes background checks, interviews of family members, fingerprinting, and iris scans. The Administration has refused to share what their specific tactics are for upcoming screening, but have said they will include more in-depth interviews and deep-dive backgrounds. While Bethany is pleased that the ban has been lifted, they are also concerned in hearing about the new vetting. “What does extreme vetting mean? What does it look like?” Palusky says. “A representative from the administration said, ‘We’re not going to tell you that because we don’t want to give our playbook to the enemy.’ So, it’s to be known, it’s been lifted. But has it really been lifted?” A Call for Middle Ground Going forward, Bethany expects to see refugee resettlement numbers decrease in their programs once again. But, they’re taking action. “We wrote a letter... to the Administration with all of our board members, asking that the number be lifted to 85,000 [refugees] a year,” Palusky says. “We feel it’s a fair number. We feel it’s justified and it’s lower than the previous administration.” Instead of cutting off tens of thousands of people seeking safety from conflicts, war, and terrorists, this letter calls the U.S. Government to help and to find a middle ground. It calls them to give much-needed help. While the U.S. government is seeking to protect Americans, Palusky says it’s possible to do both. “The safety of the American people can be secure without turning [...]

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Billy Graham, Champion of the Gospel, Dies at 99

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:24:59 -0500

United States (NAE) -- The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) celebrates the life and ministry of William “Billy” Franklin Graham, Jr., who died Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C. He was 99.

“Billy Graham has been the best known face and voice of evangelicalism for more than half a century,” said Leith Anderson, NAE President. “With Christian graciousness, he transcended political and religious differences to faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Graham is credited as preaching the gospel to nearly 215 million, not including those reached by his robust television, video and print ministries. He met with 12 U.S. Presidents and was named to Gallup’s “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” 54 times. He also appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Life, U.S. News and World Report, Parade, and numerous other magazines. After serving briefly as a pastor in Western Springs, Ill., Billy Graham began his public career as an evangelist with Youth for Christ in 1945. Graham quickly became personal friends with many early leaders of the NAE and credited the NAE network for playing a large role in the effectiveness of his early crusades.  By 1950, he was launched into international prominence and founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Graham regularly spoke at NAE conventions and events. “Billy Graham loved God, and we loved Billy Graham. We will miss him,” Anderson said. Graham graduated from the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College) in 1940, and received a B.A. from Wheaton College. In 1943, he married Wheaton classmate, Ruth Bell, who passed away in 2007. He received numerous awards of recognition and honorary degrees for his contributions to religious and civic life. Graham wrote 27 books, many of which have become best sellers. Billy Graham is survived by three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren.   (Header photo courtesy of Richard Bromley via Flickr)

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Five months after earthquakes devastate southern Mexico, tremors strike again

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 05:00:35 -0500

Mexico (MNN) -- Southern Mexico can’t seem to catch a break. On Monday, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake shook southern Mexico and quake sirens sent people scrambling into the open streets at 12:57 am CST. It was the five-month anniversary of the September 19 earthquake that killed over 200 people in Oaxaca state. This latest tremor appeared to be an aftershock of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Friday that struck the same region. Friday’s tremor caused significant damage to at least 50 homes in Santiago Jamiltepec, according to the Interior Department. And in the wake of Monday’s aftershock, schools were canceled across Oaxaca state. Thankfully, no lives were lost in either quakes. But a crashed helicopter that was surveying earthquake damage killed 13 people and injured 15 others. (Photo courtesy of Audio Scripture Ministries) Jim Loker with Audio Scripture Ministries says the back-to-back earthquakes from September and the damage they caused still have people reeling in Oaxaca state and the surrounding areas. So when tremors like these hit, they stir up the same trauma and fears. “Back in September, the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico was hit by two really strong earthquakes and a lot of homes were destroyed. About 20,000 different homes were destroyed, schools, hospitals, businesses. In the town of Juchitan and the surrounding area it sort of looks like a war zone with piles of rubble and empty lots where there used to be houses. “People’s lives are in shambles and they’re starting to rebuild, but when you look at it, where do you really start?” ASM is working with a pastor in southern Mexico who noticed a lot of local kids weren’t in school since their school building was destroyed in September. This pastor has done audio Bible distributions with ASM in the past. But when he saw the educational need in his community, he decided to do something about it. (Photo courtesy of Audio Scripture Ministries) “He started just bringing [the kids] together and having classes…. They have to meet in the afternoon. This is a coastal area and it’s very hot, very humid so they started to meet under these trees.” While holding classes outdoors is working for now, it’s not sustainable. Every time it rains or gets too hot, they have to suspend classes. With the help of a few church teams from the United States, ASM is working to build a small schoolhouse for these kids in southern Mexico to attend classes during the day and be out of the elements. Loker explains, “It’s going to be an open wall kind of a building with a thatched roof and it’s going to be just a great place for them to get out of the sun, get out of the rain, and they’ll be able to not only do their classes, but they’ll be able to hear the Gospel, they’ll be able to have Bible classes and learn more of what the Gospel is all about.” (Photo courtesy of Audio Scripture Ministries) A team from Grace Church in Middleburg Heights, Ohio recently laid the concrete flooring for the schoolhouse. They also distributed audio Bibles and shared the Gospel with listening groups of kids and their parents. This week, Loker says a team from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is also visiting to work on the schoolhouse and minister to families who were affected by the September earthquakes. “This is just one of the projects we’ve done over the last few months. We’ve helped with food and with water and with temporary kitchens. We’ve helped with construction materials but now [with] this last one, we’re going to be more involved with two teams working with kids in a particular area and working with their parents to let them see the love of Christ and do it in a practical way.” Throughout these humanitarian projects, ASM frequently holds audio Bible distributions to provide God’s Word in the heart language of th[...]

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New Bible translation projects planned for 400 “impossible” language groups

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 05:01:45 -0500

Asia (MNN) -- There are some areas of Asia that haven’t had their own translations of the Bible because, well, it’s been too difficult to get into the region. There are many countries on the continent where the persecution of Christians is fierce. These areas are volatile and can change quickly. It’s also why a lot of language groups in this region are considered “impossible language groups.” Impossible Made Possible “In a practical sense, these are languages that have been beyond our reach because of political, religious, and security considerations,” Wycliffe Associates’ Bruce Smith shares. (Photo courtesy of Pongo 2007 via Flickr) “Not because the languages themselves are impossible to translate, or because they didn’t need scriptures, but because the accessibility and the security situations were such that the timing just wasn’t available to us to reach out in that direction.” That was the case until now. At least 400 language groups in Asia are asking for Wycliffe Associates to come alongside and help them get the Bible translated into their own languages. These language groups come from at least a dozen different Asian countries. It’s still dangerous for foreigners to be traveling through these areas as they’re automatically shrouded with suspicion and often times their every move is tracked. But Wycliffe Associates won’t have to be sending anyone in. Instead, locals will be trained for the work. These folks can travel in and around Asia without causing suspicion or raising the alarm. These people also have easier access to closed countries, also referred to as creative access countries, than Wycliffe Associates or other foreigners could dream of in this age. “River of God” “We have a partner that has really sensed the move of God in equipping and raising up believers in their own nation and they’re calling this strategy the river of God,” Smith explains. “It actually comes from a devotional time that this particular leader was spending in Ezekiel 7, where this image of the river of God flowing out from the throne of God and refreshing the land of Israel really was sort of the metaphor for him having an idea that this could be the way their people in their country could be a blessing to the other countries of Asia.” (Photo and header photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates) Already this partner has 20 qualified Asian ministry leaders ready to facilitate mass workshops and start Bible translations in their countries and potentially others. “Each of those 20 would have the opportunity to be able to impact, probably 20 languages in the next years.” Do the math and that’s 400 languages with a freshly translated Bible. Smith says more and more, the actual Bible translations taking place are being led and accomplished by local churches. Wycliffe Associates serves these local churches by providing training and resources. “This has been the movement of God as we’ve seen it and we believe that it’s going to have the impact in really hundreds of languages in Asia that I said before, were really beyond our reach before,” Smith shares. Help the Translations So please-- start praying. Pray for the success of this project, the safety of these translators, and for God’s hand to be evident throughout the translation process. Many of the final unreached people groups live in Asia. But as one can imagine, getting the Bible to these people will be costly. However, when has anything worth sharing not been? It takes $96 dollars a day, or roughly $20,000 a year, to keep a translator working. Will you give to help the Gospel spread in Asia? To give, click here! For more ways to pray, click here! [...]

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International Mother Language Day and the importance of Bible translation

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 05:00:37 -0500

International (MNN) – Today is International Mother Language Day. For the last 18 years, the day has been set aside to recognize the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity as well as multilingualism. This year’s theme focuses on the role different languages play in sustainable development. But where languages impact society in education and economics, it also plays a huge role in how effectively the Gospel is spread. We talked with Andy Keener of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA to get his take on this international observance day. He says, “One of the things I’ve learned over the years as I’ve engaged with people from different places, people’s language is a very personal thing to them. The language that you speak in the home, the language you speak at work.” While it’s not common in the United States that people have to speak different languages depending on whether they’re home, at church, or at work, it’s an extremely common occurrence around the world. Keener says some people have to switch up the language they use depending on where they go, what activity they're engaged with, or who they're around. (Photo and header photo courtesy of Wycliffe USA) “Society often tells them, your language may be fine for this, but your language isn’t good for this. You can’t go to church and speak in your language, you can’t go to work and speak in your language. You can’t do business in this language. So your language feels small to many people. And that’s one of the realities that I see people dealing with all over the world.” According to the United Nations, this treatment of languages is literally blotting thousands of languages out. In fact, they estimate that within a few generations, nearly 50 percent of today’s almost 7,000 languages will be extinct. But when languages die away, so does much of a people group’s culture and background. For Wycliffe USA, it’s not so much about the loss of history that gives them an urgency to provide Scripture in all languages. It’s about the generations who will pass on without having heard about Jesus in a language they could understand at the heart level. “As Wycliffe works with language communities around the world, we have a strong belief that people should be able to understand God’s Word, pray, sing, preach and teach, and live out the life of the Church in the language that serves them best,” Keener explains. “And the area that we focus on predominately is Bible translation, recognizing that when someone who speaks one of these minority languages with no Scripture seeks to engage with God, they’re forced to do it in a language that is not their mother tongue. “And so, by bringing Bible translation into the picture, people begin to realize, ‘Wait a minute, maybe I can understand God’s message in my own language. And as initial Bible stories are often translated, and then whole books and eventually the New Testament and Old Testament are available in their language, it opens a whole new… arena where their language can flourish. And now they can meet God in the terms of the language of their heart, not just the language that society has historically demanded.” And as it turns out, Bible translation can actually be the first step to reviving a language that's been dying out. In other words, it can act to preserve a minority language. Keener says when a language group recognizes that their language is big enough to help them understand the Gospel, they start to recognize other areas of their life where their language can be useful including education and business. “It becomes a seed that plants and as it grows, it begins to permeate all aspects of how they want to use their language.” The Teribe people Keener shares an example from a people [...]

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Persecution: What is it, and what can we do about the fact that it’s growing?

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 05:02:47 -0500

International (MNN) – Recently, we talked about how ISIS continues to be a threat even after getting kicked out of Iraq and Syria. This is because the ideology and trained ISIS fighters are on the move. Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says leaders in Iran, European nations, and beyond are asking these questions: “Where do we go from there? How do we keep these people out of our countries? If we let them back in, is there a way to rehabilitate them? To reprogram them and make them useful members of the wider society? “As government leaders, that is something that is keeping people awake at night.” While these are valid questions, Nettleton says Christians should approach the topic differently. “As Christians, you know, we have the eternal assurance that Christ is going to win in the end. But it is a challenging time.” Over the last few years, ISIS has been a major perpetrator of religious persecution, particularly against Christians. And yet, they are just one contributor to the rates of persecution against Christians that seem to grow and grow each year. Persecution can also come from the government, society, or other religious groups. What is persecution? Since persecution comes in so many shapes and sizes at varying degrees, it’s helpful to begin with the basics when we consider these trends. “What is persecution? I think it is different in different places, it’s different for different people. The bottom line is, it’s when someone makes you pay a price for being a follower of Jesus Christ. Persecution doesn't only stem from governments, but also from extremist groups. (Photo and header photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs). “The price that some people pay may be people laughing at them or people sort of shunning them in their workplace or in their school. Is that persecution? Yes. But it’s not the same as having someone put a gun to your head and saying, ‘Hey, are you a Muslim or a Christian? And by the way, if you don’t say Muslim, I’m going to kill you.’ That’s sort of a different level of persecution.” In fact, he says that many times what we might call persecution here in the United States is better defined as discrimination. Typically, Christians do not face serious repercussions for their faith in countries with religious freedom like the United States. The Voice of the Martyrs USA is deeply involved with supporting the Persecuted Church through a variety of struggles overseas. When someone mentions persecution, Nettleton says, “I think of people who are putting their lives on the line, people who are giving up their livelihood in order to share the Gospel, in order to be a lighthouse in their community.” But just because we don’t face that kind of persecution doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to it. How can the global Church respond? We can learn a lot from the Persecuted Church, including how to respond in situations where our faith may put us out of favor with someone else. “I hope that the stories of our brothers and sisters who literally are putting their lives on the line inspires us in that moment to stand strongly for Christ and not to back down, but to boldly move forward and to continue to be a lighthouse and to share the Gospel and to pray for the people who the world would say are our enemies,” Nettleton says. He brings the mind Matthew 5:11 which says, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (NIV) This is an extremely difficult passage to process, especially if you haven’t faced extreme trials because of your faith. This is what makes the stories of the Persecuted Church so important to share. “What I hope happens is w[...]

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New Keys for Kids partnership in Pakistan

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 05:01:47 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – Children’s ministry is booming in the United States. From Vacation Bible Schools to after school programs, people are reaching out to kids with the Gospel. But this is not the case all over the world. Recently Greg Yoder, Executive Director for Keys for Kids Ministries, got an unusual phone call. It was from a pastor who heads up a church planting ministry in Pakistan. However, instead of asking for resources or money to help with his ministry, the pastor simply asked what Keys for Kids did. Yoder began to detail the purpose of the organization. He says, “As I described to him what we did, it became very clear to me that he had no idea what children’s ministry was and he wasn’t even focused on it. And he was surprised by the statistics and research that says 70% of people who come to Christ do so between their fourth and fourteenth birthdays and 80% of kids between four and fourteen are searching for spiritual truth. They will find some sort of ‘truth.’ The question is what kind of truth will they find by the time they are adults? And that was kind of foreign to him.” When Yoder finished explaining children’s ministry and Keys for Kids’ mission, the pastor replied that he would call back tomorrow. The next day, he was on the phone again. The pastor was grieved that his ministry was not reaching out to children. His team focused only on adults and now had their eyes open to the great potential of children’s ministry in such a difficult place to share the Gospel. Working together The pastor wanted to partner with Keys for Kids. However, there were a few problems. Keys for Kids does not have an existing translation in Urdu and even if they did, many people are illiterate. But the story didn’t end there. Yoder says, “We are just in the preliminary stages right now of forming a partnership with an organization in Pakistan who has done a lot of translation work for ministries there, specifically Bible translations. But they are very excited about translating Keys for Kids into Urdu.” The first piece of the puzzle is being solved, but what about all the people who are illiterate? Providentially, Keys for Kids already has been using a special children’s ministry device for other auditory cultures. Listening to truth The Keys for Kids Storyteller™ is a solar-powered device that has hours of stories preloaded. Yoder explains, “That’s what we’re excited about. That’s why these are being translated, so these solar powered audio devices that have the whole Bible and Keys for Kids stories on them. In their heart language, they’ll be able to understand the principles of God’s Word and lead not only children [to the Lord], but we’re even hearing adults [are coming to Christ] because it’s so simple. It’s so easy to understand that these adults will come to Christ and it will just help this organization plant more churches than they ever dreamed of.” Storytellers (courtesy of Keys for Kids Ministries) Through these auditory devices, Keys for Kids will have the opportunity to help reach the 13 million people in Pakistan with the Word of God through children’s ministries. However, by God’s grace, these storytellers will reach even further. Currently, Keys for Kids and partners are translating story devotionals into many of the top 100 most-spoken languages in the world. With these devices, traditional paper devotionals, and more, the team is excited to see God work. However, effective children’s ministry has a lot of moving pieces. Get involved Yoder asks that people pray that God gives passion and vision for this ministry to Keys for Kids staff. Pray that God provides wisdom as they use Storytellers to impact the world for Christ. [...]

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The crisis the world forgot

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 05:00:58 -0500

Lebanon (MNN) -- When crisis breaks out, the whole world typically responds. However, when the next tragedy breaks in the news, sometimes the old pain gets forgotten before things have really been resolved. Nuna of Triumphant Mercy thinks that’s what’s happening with the Syrian refugee crisis. The ministry serves Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Even though she thinks many global concerns are important, “People are forgetting that people are still people and people are still needing.” That has an impact on the resources available to victims and the organizations trying to help them. “The support is getting less and less and people are seeing this and feeling this,” Nuna says. Despair is rampant among refugees, and Nuna says they’re always looking for the slightest glimmer of hope.

Photo Courtesy Triumphant Mercy

That’s where the Gospel comes in. “It’s just increasing the acceptance people have because they really want something,” Nuna says. “They are hopeless, and they need, and they’re grabbing onto every word we say.” Even with an uncertain political situation, humanitarian needs stay the same, and Triumphant Mercy is doing what they can to fill those needs. “It doesn’t matter really politically what happens. It’s the opposite, actually; people need you more,” Nuna says. “If you’re bringing hope, if you’re bringing peace, if you’re bringing just a smile, it makes a change in people’s lives.” The news about what might be happening in Lebanon's political sector might bring tension and uncertainty, but Nuna and her team are bringing stability through the story of Christ. That means even when life doesn't make sense, hope is still there. “There’s so much anticipation and expectation in everybody’s hearts,” Nuna said. “I don’t understand it because there’s nothing new on the ground. On the ground, the situation is still the same, but there’s something new emerging inside of us, and we have a lot of expectations.” To make those expectations a reality, however, they’re going to need your help. “We need people who are so blessed in having comfort and having lives that are right and in control to think of the others,” Nuna said.

Photo Courtesy Triumphant Mercy

Triumphant Mercies is planning on expanding ministry into Syria to help with the rebuilding process for families trying to get home, and the organizations involved in ministry like this need all the support they can get if they’re going to make a real impact. “We need people to say ‘I wanna be something for my fellow brother. I want to do something. I’m not just going to look at this crisis and say, “Oh, God bless them.”’” Learn how to give, pray, and go right here.

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Olympic Games, political agendas, and the persecuted Church

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:02:52 -0500

South Korea (MNN) – The 2018 Winter Olympics—held in Pyeongchang, South Korea—are coming to an end, and so is the political propaganda accompanying it. Olympics of the Politicians The Olympics are a time of celebration, but this year’s games have been somewhat overshadowed by the political agendas which have crept into media coverage of events. Open Doors USA’s David Curry says a skewed message of North Korea has put Open Doors, and others, in the position to speak up. U.S. News has even called North Korea’s bluff, revealing that while media reporting on the games has been favorable to the closed country, it’s failed to show the South Korean protestors rejecting the political dramatics and calling foul. “Part of the beauty of the Olympics is that it gives everybody a platform with which to celebrate various cultures, countries through the lens of athletic performance," Curry shares. "But what I’ve seen and what I’m concern about this situation is with North Korea interjecting a political theme that I think we need to keep clear; that North Korea, while it may be beneficial to them to participate in the Olympics, people need to understand the perception of their country needs to be rooted in and around their lack of human rights.” Once the games are over, North Korea will still be violating the human rights of its citizens and persecuting Christians. A signal for Change? North Korea, despite the image it may be trying to paint through the games, does not allow its citizens to practice freedom of conscience. And while it has been interesting and even enjoyable watching North Koreans complete in the games, it’s important to “stay firm and send the right message that we’re aware of what’s happening in North Korea and that we care about it.” But, isn’t participating in the Winter Olympics the first step in North Korea loosening up and becoming a part of the international community? Well, not really. U.S. News also reported that North Korea's participation in the games was less about international acceptance and more about finding a way to defuse political tensions. But regardless of the "why", the first step towards North Korea being a part of the international community “needs to be human rights, religious freedom for [its] citizens,” Curry believes. World Watch List Participants Curry explains how in North Korea's ranking of enemies of the state, Christians are at the top. After all, North Korea is ranked #1 on Open Door’s *World Watch List. And it’s held this ranking for some years now. “We can’t let the Olympic games and all of its beauty and the majesty of the athletic performance take away from our knowledge and perception of North Korea as a massive human rights violator,” Curry urges. Still, North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics has put faces to the people behind the name. The situation in North Korea has become more humanized because it’s not a situation of “those people” anymore. They’re real and the world saw their faces. And while many of us are able to watch the Olympic games on TV, North Koreans can’t. The New York Times reported as of Friday, the games hadn’t been broadcasted on North Korea’s state-run television. (Photo Courtesy of Open Doors USA) Yet, North Korea isn’t the only country we should be keeping an eye on. Out of the 92 countries participating in the winter games, 13 of them also find themselves on the world watch list for religious freedom violations. “When I see these citizens, my heart breaks for the people who aren’t allowed out, aren’t allowed to decide for themselves what they think and what they believe," Curry sh[...]

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Help reach 2,500 kids with the Gospel this Easter

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:01:52 -0500

Russia (MNN) – This Easter, SOAR International is looking to reach 2,500 children with the hope of the Gospel through their “Baskets of Hope” project. They’re inviting you to help. Joanna Mangione of SOAR says, “We’re looking for churches who are willing to promote the project within their church. And then, of course, individuals and churches who would be willing to sponsor the baskets as well.” These baskets (or gift bags) are filled with gifts for children in Russia and include a Bible. When the baskets are distributed, the Gospel is shared through a short presentation. In this way, the project is very similar to their “Stuff a Stocking” project. It’s targeted towards children in need who don’t often receive such gifts of kindness. However, this distribution takes place on a much more significant holiday in Russian Culture. Mangione says that Easter, which in the Orthodox calendar takes place on April 8, is the biggest religious holiday. “Easter is already acknowledged as a religious holiday where Christmas isn’t always acknowledged in that way. It is—but it’s not nearly as big of a deal. Easter is. And so, their mindset is already on Christ. You’ll hear even some non-Christians say the phrases in Russian: ‘He is risen. He is risen, indeed.’ (Photo courtesy of SOAR International). “It’s very religious and because of that, we love the opportunity to distribute gifts during this time because their hearts are kind of already a little prepped.” There’s just a couple of months left to get everything together. Sponsoring a basket alone is $35. To provide a Bible, it costs $5. These baskets also provide a chance for you to write a letter to a child in need and let them know they are loved. If you’d like to sponsor a Bible, a basket, or both, click here. Bringing a smile to their faces Mangione says these thoughtful Easter baskets serve a couple of purposes: “One of our first instincts is to bring a smile to their face because a lot of these kids don’t have a whole lot of joy. They don’t have a whole lot of hope for the future. So, obviously, that is our initial instinct is to bring that joy, and then to direct them to acknowledging-- that joy comes from the Lord. And, this love and these gifts, they’re ultimately from the Lord.” Secondly, she says of the children they serve, “They’re the next generation. They’re the ones who, once they’re graduated and leave the orphanage, they’re going to meet more people. And if we can share the Gospel and give the hope of the Gospel to kids when they’re still young or when they’re in the home and give them a hope for the future, that they can go out then and say, ‘I have hope.’” Given the dismal situation many orphans have come out of, the mention of hope will no doubt draw more questions from people. “Our hope is that this project is merely a pebble that will turn into a ripple effect throughout the country,” Mangione says. Looking ahead into 2018 There are more ways you can walk alongside SOAR in ministry this year. First of all, you can pray for them. (Photo courtesy of SOAR International). One of the biggest prayer requests they have right now is that God would lead the right people to join their team in Alaska. They are a small team and could use some extra hands for the day-to-day tasks. You can also pray that God would give them wisdom and guidance as they prepare for projects like “Baskets of Hope.” You can also help financially. Again, if you’d like to sponsor a basket, click here. The deadline for sponsorship this year is March 31. You can also check out other pr[...]

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Missions trips in the Muslim world “will ruin your life for the ordinary”

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:00:28 -0500

International (MNN) -- Christian author and pastor John Piper wrote, “By removing eternal risk, Christ calls his people to continual temporal risk. For the followers of Jesus the final risk is gone. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).” The temporal risk that Christians are called to take here in this life now come in the form of pursuing the Great Commission -- Jesus’ command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. Proclaiming Jesus requires getting out of our comfort zone. And right now, there are over 1,000 unreached Muslim people groups who need to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ proclaimed to them. That’s where Frontiers USA comes in. (Photo courtesy of Frontiers USA) Frontiers USA currently has ten different short-term missions trips this year in the Muslim world, and they want you to join them! Perry LaHaie with Frontiers says, “It’s an opportunity to build the Kingdom [and] to share Jesus with Muslims who really want to hear the Gospel! You’ll be able to work with seasoned Frontiers missionaries and you will be helping them accomplish their long-term goals, which is to see the Gospel planted in their region and just spread like a wildfire.” The Arab Gulf, Southeastern Europe, Sicily, India, South Asia, Africa -- there is a Frontiers short-term missions trip going to all of these locations and more. While the context and outreach of each trip look different, the end goal is the same -- build relationships with Muslims and be an ambassador for Jesus Christ. “For you personally, this is an experience that will ruin your life for the ordinary. It’s something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Your heart will begin to break with the things that break God’s heart. It may even give you a pathway forward for your future!” LaHaie explains these short-term missions trips with Frontiers are far from the typical outreach experience. “There is a lot of fun built into these trips. So don’t think super serious all the time; lots of fun. The Muslims want to meet you, want to do fun stuff with you, want to hear about your faith, and these trips are safe!” (Photo courtesy of Frontiers USA) Lack of confidence in sharing the Gospel can sometimes hinder believers from engaging in missions. But LaHaie says that really shouldn’t hold you back. After all, you don’t have to be a Bible expert or proficient in Islamic teachings. With Frontiers, it’s all about building relationships with Muslim friends and being willing to share your story -- and how Jesus impacts your story. “It’s really a conversational, friendly approach to sharing the faith. So it’s just getting to know Muslims as friends and on every trip, you’re working with a Frontiers missionary team. They can encourage you and they can coach you and they can guide you through the whole process.” If you’re feeling that nudge from the Holy Spirit, what are you waiting for? Click here to check out the full list of Frontiers’ short-term missions trips to the Muslim world! [...]

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Pakistan: Ahmed’s lawyer beaten during blasphemy trial

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 05:02:36 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) -- Our newest update on Ahmed’s blasphemy case brings somber news. Last Friday, Ahmed’s lawyer, Rizvam, was attacked by the prosecuting attorney. A Brawl in Court “The prosecuting attorney didn’t just make verbal statements against what the defense attorney was saying, he actually came to blows against the defense attorney,” FMI's Bruce Allen reports. (Photo courtesy of FMI via Facebook) “He beat him in the courtroom so much so that other lawyers present had to break up the fight and Rizvam had to go to the hospital. His left eye was severely injured, as was his nose. He has not lost vision in the eye, but he has lost use of it temporarily. His eyes are still under wraps.” Rizvam has since been released from the hospital. This situation isn’t uncommon in Pakistani courtrooms. In fact, some situations have become so extreme that people have been murdered in the very court where justice was supposed to be sought. And when Rizvam was attacked, the judge hearing the blasphemy case turned a blind eye and walked out of the courtroom. When the judge did this, Allen says it was a way of giving silent consent for the attack to continue. “That was a real tragedy and such an injustice,” Allen shares. New Developments Still, Rizvam plans to continue representing Ahmed in this blasphemy case. However, a second warrant has been issued against Ahmed. The warrant is vague and does not say what crime Ahmed is being charged with nor does it share what incident or activity which prompted the charge. “In fact the section where the warrant is to list the offense, that field is left blank. But section 144 of the penal code...empowers district administration to issue various orders in the public interest, including placing a ban on activity that someone may be engaged in for a specified period of time,” Allen explains. “However, we don’t know what activity is trying to be banned or what length of time it would be banned. Ahmed doesn’t know any of these things, not even who is charging him under this warrant.” The circumstances surrounding the warrant make it seem like it was a result of bribery. Allen says standard procedures for the warrant were not followed and for this reason, the warrant more than likely will not be valid. “The is just a wealth of corruption and injustice in this case. And so we continue to lift up our brother before the one who is sovereign over all nations,” Allen shares. Ahmed’s case is now into the fourth month of the trial. However, this isn’t abnormal. Most blasphemy cases in Pakistan last anywhere from three to five years. This is partly because trials take place only once a week. Societal Factors With that said, outside pressures continue to affect Ahmed’s case. Particularly, the recent sentencing of the men who killed the university student, Mashal Khal, after he was accused of blasphemy. The situation was supposed to go to court, but Khan was killed in April of 2017 before this happened. The courts later declared that Khan was innocent. (Photo Courtesy Sean MacEntee via Flicker: In the aftermath of this, several of these men who attacked Khan have been sentenced to three years in prison, life in prison, and one has even been sentenced to death. “[Just over a week ago] in Pakistan, there were massive protests…related to the sentencing of men who were convicted in the vigilante killings of this university student, Mashal Khan, last year,” Allen explains. “There are so many people clamoring in the streets, or rioting, to say ‘We want to continue to[...]

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Iranian Church among the fastest growing

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 05:01:07 -0500

Iran (MNN) – The Church in Iran is one of the fastest growing churches in the world. It’s a stat that’s been supported by missiologists, Christian researchers, and other Christian workers in the region. Why the Growth Rex Rogers with SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry in the Middle East and North Africa, says there are three things happening in Iran that’s sparking the Church growth. Hedonism: A lot of Iranians are hurting spiritually and emotionally. This pain has resulted in drug and alcohol abuse. In the midst of the pain, though, these people are also looking for something to bring life to their lives. Zoroastrianism: Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islamic religion related to Persia. Iran’s history with Persia, and the answer found in the religion, attracts Iranians. Church Growth: Because people are hurting and looking for answers, the Church is growing. This undoubtedly sparks even more growth in the region as new Christians seek to share their faith in Christ. (Photo Courtesy of SAT-7 PARS via Facebook) “People are looking for answers. You know ISIS is an Arab world problem. Still, Iranians are aware of it and they see ISIS people, or other extreme groups like that, killing each other in the name of their common god and it doesn’t make any sense to them,” Rogers explains. “And they see their own government using religion as a tool to power. Anybody under 35 years of age over there, that’s all they’ve ever seen. Back to 1979 and the [Islamic] Revolution.” However, this experience with Islam has caused Iranians to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, what else is out there?’ And while what’s happened and continues to happen in Iran is not good, God is using it to show people his love, grace, and salvation. Persecution, Restriction, Rebirth Yet, Iranians actually have very little access to Christian resources. Churches have to stay in the shadows, though historical Christian churches are granted some limited freedoms. Still, it is forbidden for Christians to evangelize to individuals of Muslim backgrounds. Christians are treated like second-class citizens and Muslims who convert to Christianity face even harsher persecution. There’s risk for Christian converts, which can vary by region. Believing in Christ can mean losing a job, losing a spouse and/or family members, even being beaten, imprisoned, and harassed. (Photo Courtesy of SAT-7 via Facebook) But despite this risk, persecution, and the little access Iranians have to Christian resources in the country--the Church is present. “Now it’s the secret Church, it’s the hidden Church. It’s house churches. It’s a lot of strong and intelligent women who are leading those churches. Men, too, but more women who are educated and have the ability,” Rogers shares. “They sing in whispers and they do incredible things and they tune into SAT-7 PARS because that’s where they get discipleship. That’s where they get teaching. That’s where they get fellowship and encouragement.” Help the Church But what does it mean to be a hidden church? Well, it involves strategy and not drawing attention to where the church is meeting. For example, this can mean arriving at the church location at different times or parking a few blocks away and walking to the place or home. “The Christian people in Iran and the rest of the Middle East, too, are amazingly resilient and strong,” Rogers says. “Their convictions, their commitment puts us, I think sometimes, to shame.” So please, pray for these Christians. Pray they’d be able to[...]

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Recognizing the urgency of the Gospel

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 05:00:12 -0500

International (MNN) – With war, natural disasters, and other crises seemingly on the rise, the urgency of the Gospel is clear. Right now Earth boasts around 7.5 billion people and that number keeps growing. But many have never heard about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. On January 25th, the world worried again as the Science and Security Board for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds. As a symbol of humanity’s end, the clock sends the message that people need to slow the coming of end times. Some suggest that governments halt nuclear activity or take larger steps to mitigate climate change, but are those actions enough? The climax of history While working toward peace is good, Christians see the clock a little differently. Ron Hutchcraft, president of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, explains, “These folks have been looking at this since the 1950’s and they’re in essence saying this is as dangerous as it’s ever been. Of course, the clock that really matters we can’t see, and that’s God’s clock. That’s the one that really counts. And we know that God’s clock is counting down each day to the climax of human history. It’s counting down to the personal return of Jesus Christ, King Jesus, to this earth. And we don’t know how close that is.” Hutchcraft observes that our conflict-ridden world is becoming more and more like the world Jesus described when he talked about his return. For Christian ministries and individual followers of Christ, that means the same thing: Christ’s second coming is near and people need to hear the Gospel. Patient, seeking repentance 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Crowds (Courtesy of Chris Amelung on Flickr Hutchcraft notes that the “everyone” in 2 Peter poses a big job for the Church. With over 7.5 billion people on the earth, Christians need to be in tune with the urgency of the Gospel before the return of Christ. The Doomsday Clock may not be the motivation, but the Gospel should be. He goes on, “Every generation of Christians is responsible for their generation of lost people. Except we’ve got the biggest job any Christians have ever had. Which means obviously we’d all be fully engaged with the best of our passions, and the best of our energies, and the best of our money in the work of getting the Gospel to people right? Or not? Is that right? And if it’s ever been important to live for what matters forever, it’s now, in moments like these.” Work while you can Hutchcraft believes the first place we start is with our hearts. Do we see the urgency of the Gospel as real? “I wonder when we stand before our Savior and we… [see] only eternity ahead of us and all the Earth stuff gone, will we be saying, 'I could have done more'? The time to be saying that is now, looking at the time we are living in and perhaps the time on God’s clock. The size of the task of 7.5 billion ‘ones’, and not one of them God wants to perish. Are we doing all we could do or could we be doing more?” The time is now Hutchcraft notes that every tool, ability, and gift we have should be captured for the Gospel. Is the message of salvation being spread in the places people go most often, their phones? Are we praying daily for those who need Christ? Are we seeking ways to use our gifts to draw people to the Lord? Or are we wasting time[...]

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Islamic Revolution echoes 39 years later in Iran

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:02:59 -0500

Iran (MNN) – This month marks 39 years since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. At the time of the revolution, Iran was at the height of its glory. The country had a strong economy, decent international policies, and sat in the position of being a power player with OPEC. In fact, Iran had a lot of say in pricing oil barrels for the market. With that said, it was a major shock to the country when the revolution broke out. Yet, many Iranians embraced the revolution, believing change would be a good thing for their country. But that hopeful belief soon turned to feelings of hurt and betrayal. Iran Today Since then, and despite its diverse communities, Islam has become more prominent in Iranian society. Heart4Iran’s Mike Ansari, Director of Operations for Mohabat TV, shares: A mural in the holy city of Qom depicts Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution on the left. Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, on the right. (Photo/Caption Courtesy of David Stanley via Flicker “Many Iranians believe that a religion limits their truest spirituality. And labels their esoteric experiences as heresy and as occult.” The weaving of Islam into the very fabrics of Iran’s society and government since 1979 has negatively impacted the country’s freedom of religion. Iran is currently ranked number 10 on the *World Watch List. In November 2009, Ansari explains, the U.N. Human Rights Council outlined Iran’s diverse and religious communities. Yet, Iranian courts seem influenced by conservative Islamic clerics, like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 1989, Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who is known as the father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khomeini believed apostasy, in this case abandoning the Islamic religion, was a crime which should be punished by death. “In the last few years most extrajudicial killings in Iran have been slowly replaced with arbitrary arrests and detention,” Ansari explains. “Most of the arrested individuals are coerced to divulge information about their house church activities and those of their friends under the threat of criminal persecution, or even arrest of family members. So, extended detentions without formal charge, trial, or sentencing are extremely common in Iran.” Doors Opened Yet, these restrictions don’t mean Iranians have stopped coming to Christ. In fact, Ansari says after the revolution a lot of Iranians felt like Islam was bankrupt. But in 1981 there was a global distribution of the Jesus Film in the Farsi language. This along with other events helped open doors for Iranians to question Islam and seek truth in the Gospel. “Frustrated and hopeless, many Iranians gravitated to the simple message of love through Jesus,” Ansari says. (Photo courtesy of Heart 4 Iran) And while the culture in Iran today makes it hard for people to turn to Christianity, the country has seen a surge in new believers coming from an Islamic background. Yet, these same Christians have become the most isolated in Iran. Why? Because they’re essentially left without direction. It’s very difficult for Christian believers to be discipled and learn about their new faith. Still, they’re seeking answers. “They try to get fed and learn about their new faith through media, through social media, through the internet, through satellite TV in particular,” Ansari shares. “The atmosphere in Iran, the persecution has created a very unsafe atmosphere where the average Christian does not feel safe t[...]

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One month post Iran’s Telegram app ban

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:01:13 -0500

Iran (MNN) – From January 2 to January 13, the Iranian government blocked the use of the Telegram app in the country. The block came as an effort to contain widespread protests which broke out December 28 and didn’t calm until mid-January. Telegram Block Ends However, that block impacted listeners of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. The Telegram app is one of the main ways that SAT-7’s team from their SAT-7 PARS channel communicates with its viewers in Iran. (Photo courtesy of SAT-7 via Facebook) “Like any app on social media, it’s more social, it’s individual. So, we have people who, of course, speak Farsi and can interact with them and write back to them and they have a connection,” SAT-7’s Rex Rogers shares. “And so that helps them in a very direct sense whereas, of course, on television media, you’re broadcasting to thousands or hundreds of thousands or more and so that helps. Another part of it is, of course, they can get specific questions answered at times or they can ask for certain prayer requests.” The Telegram app is a useful tool because of its encryption capability, meaning individuals can communicate using a secure line. Churches are underground in Iran. During the unrest, believers who aren’t connected to a church couldn’t even communicate with SAT-7. Plus, the app is many Iranians’ connection with the outside world. “If you’re in a country that’s constrained in terms of its information, as a human being you’re hungry for information,” Rogers says. “So, we’re grateful for the ability to interact at all.” Iranian Church Ablaze The Body of Christ in Iran is one of the fastest growing churches in the world. SAT-7 has the privilege to be a tool for this growth. “There’s more openness to Christ and Christianity and the Gospel right now, in the Middle East and North Africa, unlike any time since World War II. It’s unprecedented,” Rogers explains. “And so we don’t hear that talked about on the big cable news TV networks, God is working.” Want to help Iranian Christians and unbelievers be discipled and learn more about Jesus Christ? Get Involved You can help by praying for SAT-7’s ministry, the people it serves, Iranian believers’ encouragement and strength, and God’s work in the country. Pray for peace and for the continued work of the Gospel there. (Photo courtesy of SAT-7 via Facebook) Other ways to help include being informed. Find out what’s happing in Iran, and the rest of the Middle East, from multiple sources with different viewpoints. Take time to learn more about Iran, its culture, and its history, too. “There’s a lot going on and….Iranians as a group, they don’t hate Americans…. They want what we have,” Rogers explains. “They just want a normal life and liberties that go with that. They admire America and all you can learn about them is something that’s very important.” Will you also consider giving? All it takes is $1 to provide satellite TV to a single person in the Middle East and North African region. To give to SAT-7’s ministry, click here! Don’t forget to check back tomorrow when we share more about how the Iranian Church is growing. [...]

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Leaders in Lebanon

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:00:09 -0500

Lebanon (MNN) -- Many ministries are trying to equip leaders to do ministry all around the world. But not many are working out of Lebanon. Pierre Houssney of Horizons International thinks people tend to underestimate the presence of believers in Lebanon. There are over 100 evangelical Christian churches in the country, and estimates show that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 believers. Houssney thinks those numbers are actually probably higher. “Many, like me, have never changed their identity cards from Orthodox or Maronite Christian or Sunni or Shiite Muslim identity cards, so there are many believers here in Lebanon and throughout the region that are just not known by international audiences,” he says. Photo Courtesy Horizons International Houssney calls the community of believers “tight-knit” and says Horizons has been able to "unite denominations, groups, and individuals for more effective ministry.” Houssney believes the way his ministry is operating in Lebanon is unique in the world of mobilization. Usually, the focus is on bringing in foreign workers. “The model of the past is you send one missionary and they establish a church and work, but it really takes them decades to do any kind of work that lasts,” he says. Instead, Horizons focuses on equipping the national Church so foreign missionaries can collaborate with believers who already have a ministry presence and understand their own culture. The skills and knowledge foreign missionaries have are “multiplied many times over because of the partnership with nationals,” Houssney says. And the impact of these national and international partnerships is already showing. Local churches that would normally keep to themselves are reaching out into their communities. And when the refugee crisis forced churches to step up, Houssney says they answered the call. “They are now seeing Syrian refugees flood into their congregations, and we’re helping them witness to them and give them resources and humanitarian aid while discipling them,” he says. “The churches are baptizing them and adding to their number every day.” Horizons is growing, too. They’re currently establishing new outreach centers across the Middle East and North Africa. The buildings they already have set up are getting upgrades in 2018. They’re also working on ministry centers around Lebanon that will prepare leaders to send into Syria. Photo Courtesy Horizons International Although things are going well for the Lebanese Church, there is still a lot of need. “The churches that do exist, though they are numerous, are still very few compared to the need,” Houssney says. “We still have 400 million Muslims in the Arabic speaking world.” That’s why they need your support. “We’d love it if you’d spread this information to your churches and anybody you know so they’d start having a bigger awareness of the ministries that already exist in the region,” Houssney says. “We need partnerships to be formed between historically Christian areas and pioneering Christian areas so that we can grow the kingdom in these strategic ways.” “This is a time of amazing harvest, and we’re praying that the Lord would open the door even further, that this will not be a window of opportunity but a continued season of opportunity.” [...]

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Medical facilities project reaffirming dignity of Rohingya refugees

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:02:27 -0500

Bangladesh (MNN) -- The number of Rohingya refugees has now risen to nearly one million people since Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign, according to the United Nations. The incredible number of Rohingya pouring into Bangladesh in just six short months has put a tremendous strain on the host nation politically, economically, socially, and environmentally. Government officials in Bangladesh are eager to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar and have agreed to let the UN oversee the repatriation process. Myanmar officials said at the end of January that they were ready for the Rohingya to return, but the process has been delayed until it is deemed “safe”. However, one Rohingya woman told CNN they will never feel safe enough to return to the nation that allowed the slaughter their people. For now, most of the Rohingya refugees are living in refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Overcrowding and cramped conditions make it easy for the silent killer of disease to sweep through the camp. (Photo courtesy of Food for the Hungry) That’s why Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International have joined forces to assemble a series of medical facilities throughout the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar. Matt Ellingson with FH explains, “These are temporary structures. You know, everything in a refugee camp is in transition at the most basic levels, so we have shelters that are strategically located through three zones of the hugest camp you can imagine -- over 800,000 people living in what used to be jungle, but now it is just rolling mud. These facilities are strategically located so that a catchment area of around 350,000 people have access to these primary healthcare facilities.” Food for the Hungry has been working in Bangladesh since 1973, so they really are experts on ministry in the context of Bangladesh. For the medical facilities, FH provides the administrative and program guidance, and Medical Teams International brings in the health professionals. Together, the ministries have already opened three medical facilities in Cox’s Bazar to serve Rohingya refugees. They are also working on three more medical facilities to launch as soon as they can. (Photo courtesy of Food for the Hungry) “First, we have to allocate the land, find the space within the camp, [and] prepare the space because it’s a highly unstable land and the monsoon rains are coming. We have to be careful and make sure our facilities won’t slide off the side of the hill. Then we bring in health professionals.” When the Rohingya refugee crisis first became apparent, Food for the Hungry deployed a needs assessment team. Ellingson was a part of this team and he says, “There were gaps in every type of activity required for life to thrive across the board in this crisis. You know, 600,000 people came across the border in a short matter of a couple of months, so you can imagine that everything from shelter to food, everything was in desperate need.” Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International decided that together they could have the most lifesaving impact in the medical care sector. The medical facilities they opened provide healthcare treatments, home visits, and if there is a serious illness or condition that needs hospitalization, they refer patients to a hospital outside the camp. “Our program is like the tip of the spear in disease outbreak prevention. Your readers and liste[...]

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West Michigan ministry draws attention to first responder emotional, mental trauma

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:01:02 -0500

United States (MNN) – For centuries, the impact of traumatic events on military members was overlooked. Awareness of this issue has grown immensely in recent years. But there’s another sector of society dealing with similar struggles. These are police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other types of first responders. Warriors Set Free is a branch of Set Free Ministries, an organization devoted to helping people overcome spiritual warfare as it presents itself emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise. Steve Prince of Warriors Set Free says many of the issues they deal with alongside service members are similar to what first responders encounter. This could be post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, or recurring memories about a traumatic event. Prince says, “I met with a local police officer. He told me about one of his officers who responded to an apartment fire and watched a lady basically die on her balcony and he couldn’t help her. And that traumatizes that officer.” While there is admittedly little data on the subject, a recent survey found that out of 4,000 first responders, 6.6 percent had attempted suicide. And in 2016, there were 132 reports of first responder suicides in the United States, but those were just the reports made voluntarily. Another survey found that 85 percent of participants experienced mental health-related symptoms due to their work. Sadly, many individuals experiencing these kinds of trials go without help. Prince says the majority of first responders are men who are still affected by the cultural expectation that they should hide any sort of weakness. “Men, in general, don’t want to ask for help,” he says. “And then you add on top of that a military mindset or a policeman’s mindset and they’re very, very resistant to getting help.” Because Set Free Ministries has so much experience with counseling people through these trials, they want to raise awareness among first responders and their families of the resource they offer. “Set Free Ministries helps absolutely everybody. I just am focusing on military veterans myself. And we also have a member of our staff who’s a former police officer. So we know that’s a huge need and we are seeking to engage more with that police, firefighter, first responder population, also.” While there are other resources, such as chaplains within the police force, Prince says, “It’s a matter of what resources are effective. And of course, with us being a ministry, biblical guidance and biblical knowledge pretty much trumps anything else. I have a masters in counseling and I’ve come to understand that the only secular counseling techniques that work and work well are rooted in Scripture, whether the general public knows that or not.” In April, Set Free is co-hosting a seminar with Sheepdog Seminars, an organization focused on helping those with a “sheepdog” heart to protect others. Sheepdog Seminars will be sharing practical tools that can help people suffering from a traumatic event heal. Set Free Ministries will be bringing the Gospel in: “It’s the only thing we have hope for because we make mistakes, we sin, we have issues that the only forgiveness we get is through Christ. "And if someone’s carrying regret from an event that happened, we bring biblical knowledge of saying ‘If you made a mistake, if you did something—even if you did it on purpose—yo[...]

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A future for the unreached

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:00:50 -0500

International (MNN) -- About 2.5 billion people remain unreached by the Gospel. Seeing the desperate need, the Alliance for the Unreached unites organizations working to share the message with the remaining people who haven't heard about Jesus. Bibles For The World became a member because they know what a great difference sharing the Truth can make. After all, “we actually are a ministry born out of an unreached people group,” says President and CEO John Pudaite. History of Bibles for the World In 1910, the Gospel was brought to the Hmar tribe in India. Pudaite’s grandfather, Chawnga, became a Christian and prayed someone in their village would have a son so he could learn to read, write, and translate the Bible into the Hmar people’s language. Chawnga had four sons and one of them was Rochunga Pudaite, the founder of Bibles For The World. Trusting God, Rochunga was the first boy in his village to attend school. While there, he translated the Bible into his native language, and later, he started village schools to educate those who couldn’t read. (Photo courtesy of Bibles for the World) Now, Bibles For The World has started schools that have taught thousands to read and they have brought the Word of God to many unreached people in India. “Those people groups, starting with our own, and then the neighboring people groups reach through our ministry in essence. And we continue this to this day as we look for opportunities to share the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ with the unreached around the world.” Bibles For The World has extended their reach from India to 122 more countries. Their work has touched up to 300 million people with Scripture, and they continue sharing the Gospel with unreached people groups – even where they were founded. The Future for Bibles for the World Pudaite recently attended the Finishing the Task Conference, a conference with a vision “to see every people group in the world engage with an indigenously led church planting movement.” While there, Pudaite learned about four unreached people groups in India he hadn’t known of before. “Though there has been a lot of work in India over the years, a lot of Christian and missionary work, both by foreign missionaries as well as the indigenous Christians, there still are so many unreached people groups. It is such a vast country... And so, as research goes on, we continue to find new unreached people groups or subgroups that really have not been touched with the Gospel yet.” However, these last people groups will be the hardest to reach. Ministry for each group will need to be researched and prepared specifically for those people. “The remaining unreached people groups are unreached for many different reasons. It may be political, social, cultural, maybe geographic,” Pudaite says. “And so, now these remaining unengaged, unreached people groups especially, each of them needs a specially crafted strategy to be able to reach them effectively. And we have to look at things from all different angles, language-wise, literacy level, education levels. Some of them are socio-cultural, customs, different things like that to determine who and how would be the best way to reach them.” Bibles For The World will be working with indigenous leaders in India to research and plan for the best way to reach these unreached people groups. Pudaite [...]

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ISIS presence in Iran draws attention to the mobility of terrorism

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:02:17 -0500

Iran (MNN) – When ISIS began rapidly gaining territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, nearby Iran was largely able to keep the terrorist group from entering their country. But today, with ISIS all but eradicated from its old strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Iran is seeing an increase in ISIS activity along the Iraqi border. Reuters said earlier this month that in late January, three Revolutionary guards were killed along the border in an attack by 21 ISIS militants from Iraq. Altogether, five of the ISIS fighters were killed in the clash. The news agency reports that just a few days prior to the attack, a massive weapons stash was discovered in the Iranian town of Marivan. When the final strongholds of ISIS were cleared out in Syria and Iraq, many voices eagerly celebrated the group’s demise. However, there were plenty of cautionary voices in the mix as well, warning of the permeating mobility of an ideology like that of ISIS. (Flag of ISIS, public domain via Wikimedia Commons) Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says along with the ideology, we have to consider the militants who are alive and well after escaping Syria and Iraq. They have to go somewhere, and Iran seems a likely place to go. Iran is mostly made up of Shi’ite Muslims, a sect that the Sunni-identifying extremists believe is heretical. However, within Iran, there are the Kurds. This ethnic group, mostly Sunni Muslims, makes up about 10 percent of the population. Nettleton says it might be ISIS’ tactic to infiltrate this population using the common ground of Sunni Islam. “There is a large Kurdish population within the borders of Iran. And so it’s a country where they can get into, they can mingle, and fit in with the wider culture which maybe makes it easier to go in undetected.” But despite this unique climate that ISIS might be taking advantage of, Nettleton says Iran is not alone in grappling with the ominous possibilities of where ISIS will go next. “The issue that Iran is facing is the same issue that Egypt is facing. It’s the same issue that Libya is facing. It’s the same issue that some of the European countries are facing. “What’s going to happen to all these ISIS fighters who have been fighting and training in Iraq and Syria, now that those battlefields have fallen? You know, we hear that ISIS has been defeated. Well, there are thousands of trained fighters who are now returning home—in some cases that’s Iran, like I say, in some cases that’s western European countries—what’s going to happen to them, or what damage are they going to do once they get home? That’s a question that many countries are asking right now, not just Iran.” Open Doors USA’s 2018 World Watch List revealed that persecution against Christians is intensifying across the board. For the last few years, ISIS has played a part in the growth of persecution. But what’s ahead for this next year? Nettleton says, “I think we will see religiously-motivated attacks, not only by trained ISIS fighters but by others as well. It does raise the possibility that we may see them in some places where we haven’t seen them previously as these fighters return home.” These concerns raise a lot of questions for international leadership and the Church alike. Check back in with us later this week as we zoom out to look at persecution and how we[...]

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Post-election contention ongoing in Kenya; Christians setting example of unity

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:01:53 -0500

Kenya (MNN) -- To say that Kenya has gone through a volatile election season is putting it lightly. Opposition leader Raila Odinga still claims that recently-elected President Uhuru Kenyatta stole the election. On January 29th, Odinga held a mock inauguration for himself as the “people’s president”. Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo courtesy of MAKE IT KENYA PHOTO / STUART PRICE via Wikimedia Commons) The Kenyan government responded to Odinga’s mock swearing-in ceremony with arrests and media shutdowns. Odinga’s advisor, Miguna Miguna, was also deported by the government. Court orders demanded the Kenyan government reinstate media outlets and hand over Miguna to appear before a judge and be released on bail, but the government ignored the court orders. International figures were not impressed. On Sunday, eleven Western envoys urged Odinga to recognize Uhuru as the nation’s legitimately elected president and for the government to submit to court orders. But with both sides of Kenyan politics staunchly holding their ground, international exhortations have fallen on deaf ears so far. To further complicate matters, tribal allegiance often dictates political party loyalty in Kenya. The current national context of political disunity has the potential to further agitate tribal rivalries and power struggles. However, it’s in this context that Global Disciples says Kenyan Christians are setting a different example. Remarkable Unity We shared yesterday how Global Disciples’ Annual Equipping Event (AEE) recently gathered and encouraged Christian directors in India. The ministry equips these directors to train indigenous church planters in leadership development, discipleship missions, and small business development. Global Disciples also recently held an AEE for their directors in Kenya, and they were moved by the unity they witnessed in the Body of Christ. Tim* with Global Disciples was at the AEE in Kenya and says, “One of the exciting things for me was there were a couple tribes at this gathering. Trainers come from different tribes and backgrounds. Some came from the Pokot tribe and some came from a Turkana tribe, and historically, those tribes have not gotten along very well. In later years, they’re doing much better. But it was so encouraging to see the two tribes gather together, hold arms, actually, they locked arms shoulder-to-shoulder and spent time praying for one another. "Even one of the Turkana brothers is mentoring one of the Pokot brothers. So we see things like that and it’s really encouraging to bring change to communities, to see Jesus changing people’s lives, and we’re excited to be a part of that.” (Photo courtesy of Global Disciples) Directors at the three-day AEE spent time praying and fasting together. One night, they broke into nine groups and every group took an hour to pray throughout the whole night. “During this time, we pay attention to what God is saying to us and cry out to the Lord that he would send workers into the harvest and that there would be people who would come to know Jesus. During that night of prayer, people are writing down prayer requests and so we walk around and pray for the prayer requests, pray for healing, pray for many different things, and it’s in those times that you really develop relationship,” shares Ti[...]

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World Radio Day highlights the continued need for frequency waves

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:00:48 -0500

International (MNN) – Today is World Radio Day and Trans World Radio wants to celebrate by highlighting why radio isn’t just a pastime from history, it’s actually a favorite present-time activity and vital communication tool. World Radio Day Haven’t heard of World Radio Day? Well, that’s probably because February 13th wasn’t established as World Radio Day until 2011 by UNESCO. And it’s a great time to recognize radio’s powerful presence and the fact that it’s still a major media force across the globe. “You get into Africa, you get into Latin America, you go into Asia; radio is a primary source of information, of encouragement, of help,” Trans World Radio’s Lauren Libby shares. “In Africa, it teaches farmers how to farm better... Globally, radio provides information and content that you couldn’t get in other forms. And it provides it to people in an accessible way, that they don’t even have to be able to read, but they can just listen.” Benefits of Radio What many may not realize is how radio is used to reach people with information who are poor, illiterate, disabled, young, and old-- and without discrimination. Radio isn’t limited by these things or by conditions like remoteness or education levels. (Logo courtesy of Trans World Radio) And in the United States, radio is still an important part of everyday life. Libby says recent surveys show about 93 percent of the audio consumed in the U.S. and Western Europe is from on-the-air sources, primarily radio. “Radio’s still a very viable force in the [world] today and it shapes public opinion and that’s why I think people are saying, well, I think we need to acknowledge the fact that radio is viable. It’s cheap, it’s accessible, and it’s understandable,” Libby says. Radio also crosses borders into closed countries and reaches people in areas where others may not be able to travel. And, in a sense, radio levels the playing field for who has access to information. Now TWR’s footprint in radio is to share the most important information of all, the Gospel. TWR’s goal “is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to the whole world by mass media so that lasting fruit is produced.” Radio is a major way TWR is able to accomplish this goal. Growing, Reaching, Preaching In fact, Libby shares that TWR has actually been building broadcast facilities and just signed on a larger facility on Bonaire. The ministry is also preparing to beam another radio signal into Africa. TWR feels that radio is a way to reach mass numbers of people and prepare the way in these people’s hearts for the missionaries ministering to them. “We currently touch, with our broadcast facilities, 190 countries every day in 235 languages. And on our digital facilities, we’re approaching 60 languages and we have about 50,000 people a day on our digital platforms. So, audio, radio—very, very important for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Libby says. Impact in India Just under two weeks ago, Libby returned from India. While in the country Libby attended a conference where people host radio homes. About 2,000 TWR listeners in the country traveled to attend this same conference. One man traveled so far that his journey included two-days of walking, a train ride, and then two busses before he[...]

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Could Chad be the next Sudan?

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:02:54 -0500

Chad (MNN) -- Tensions in Chad remain at a breaking point because of financial and political crises that have built up over the years. Major Causes of Tension and Protests “The country has been deeply affected by the price of oil and because of that, the government has not been paying wages to all the workers like teachers and other people,” says Christian Aid Mission’s David Bogosian. “So, the unions in the country have gotten together and they decided to go on strike and this is a nationwide strike that’s affected the entire country.” Teachers, students, truck drivers, and other unionists protested the public financial cuts and increase of income tax on Monday, January 29, bringing the country to a halt. Altogether, 112 students were arrested for the protest. The Chadian government has put bans on demonstrations since. However, a protest set for last Tuesday, February 6, went ahead anyway. Ten political parties supported the protest. The following day, the government suspended the parties for the next two months and closed their offices for “disturbing public order” and “inciting violence”. This and the cut in wages has added to the building anger at President Idriss Déby. “He came into power in 1990, and he’s had a very tight grip over the country, but he’s getting old,” Bogosian says. “He’s sixty-five years plus, and this could be his last term. And so, we’re kind of looking at this, wondering what’s going to happen. Anything could happen. If he were to step down or if he were to be removed from power, it’s unclear what would happen.” Despite the protests and the possibility of President Déby stepping down, Bogosian says it’s doubtful a revolution will happen, but he’s still wary. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia) “The government is pretty strong. They have a good control over the military and other security forces so it’s unlikely that a revolution will happen, but you never know. This is Africa and revolutions do happen. But right now, we’re not seeing any kind of fissures taking place in the military or in the security forces that would lead to a revolution.” It’s clear the government has also been trying to settle the anger of protestors. After the rise in the demonstrations, Chad’s finance minister said the country will not be making any additional cuts on civil workers’ pay this year, and lowest-income workers will be exempt from the spike of income tax. Other Contributing Factors However, the disagreements on the wages and taxes are not the only contributing factors to the rising tensions. Bogosian says Chad is surrounded by external threats from other countries. “You have Boko Haram coming from Nigeria. You have problems coming from Sudan... You have Libya to the north, which is in chaos, you have unrest in the south, and east, and west – everywhere you look, you have problems. And the Chadian government has done a good job to protect its borders to kind of push those things up, but they’re always there, waiting to encroach. So, it’s a constant threat.” Bogosian points out that religious strains are also adding to the tensions in Chad and have been for decades. “You have tensions between Muslims and Christians, which has led to civil wars happenin[...]

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Snapshot packets help bring exponential growth; second printing coming to Pakistan

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:01:10 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – Last year in Pakistan, FMI introduced the image-based relationship building tool called the Snapshot Tool packet. These packets have helped congregations share the Gospel, rather than just pastors and church planters. FMI’s Bruce Allen shares: “We saw that in the course of this past year, nearly 4,000 people placed their faith in Christ. A lot of that is to do with the fact that whole congregations-- not just the pastor or the church planter, the professionals so to speak-- are doing ministry. Now everybody’s doing ministry. So, we have seen the numbers of people coming to Christ grow exponentially.” The Snapshot Tool (Photo Courtesy FMI) The Snapshot Tools are entirely image-based and contain no text. Each Snapshot Tool is also specifically designed for the country and gender it is being used in and for. “A Snapshot packet in Pakistan looks a lot different than the Snapshot packet in Indonesia.” The reason for the differences is simply because life isn’t the same for the people of Pakistan as it is for the people of Bangladesh or of Indonesia. Plus, there are different challenges facing the women than the men. The culture also has very distinct norms for each gender. “One of the reasons we’re doing things by gender is it’s a huge social taboo for men and women to mix if you are not related to each other in Pakistan,” Allen shares. “Even if it’s a women’s role very entrenched in society to take care of household things…if the woman wants to go out to the market to purchase food, she can’t go by herself. She has to be accompanied by her husband, her father, an older brother, something like that.” The gender segregation in the Pakistani culture even permeates as far the Christian subculture in the country. It’s their way of life. Allen shares that if you go into a church in Pakistan, it’s nearly a 100 percent guarantee you will see men sitting on one side of the congregation with women on the other. “A woman is not likely to have a Snapshot conversation with a man. It’s most likely that she’s going to be talking to a woman,” Allen says. “And in Pakistan or in these Muslim dominate countries where the genders are so segregated, you need some pictures that will speak to the emotions and the life and activities of the specific gender you’re dealing with.” Still, about 85-90 percent of the images used in the Snapshot tools are the same between the men’s and women’s packets. The Advantage of Images Furthermore, it’s an advantage that the tool is image-based, particularly for individuals who are illiterate. For Christians in Pakistan, the pictures are particularly useful since the country has a low literacy rate of around 50 percent, which tends to be worse among minorities, and even more so amongst women. “Here we’ve given them a tool by which they can kick-start spiritual conversations with people, find out quickly [the] background about the people, find a relative, pertinent bridge for the conversation to introduce Jesus into the conversation,” Allen explains. “We have found that in the past year that it has exceeded our expectations in terms of engaging whole congregations for evangelism.” The spiritual fruit from Pakistan i[...]

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Annual Equipping Events revitalizing Indian Christian leaders in the Holy Spirit

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:00:39 -0500

India (MNN) -- Christians in India are increasingly becoming the targets of oppression and even attacks. India currently sits at 11th on the Open Doors World Watch List -- a list ranking countries where it is the most dangerous to be a Christian. Last year, India ranked lower on the World Watch List in 15th place. However, believers in India are persevering in their Christian witness. And Global Disciples helps encourage these believers in ministry. Global Disciples trains and equips indigenous Christian leaders (known as directors) around the world who then train local church planters to fulfill the Great Commission. These directors may occasionally go into church planting themselves, but they are primarily trainers for church planting, small business development, and leadership. In India, Global Disciples recently had an Annual Equipping Event (AEE) to encourage and support the directors. Jon* with Global Disciples says these men and women have witnessed the increasing persecution in India. “Many of them know churches that have been closed down or pastors that have been imprisoned…. It’s something they live with on a daily basis and face the reality that they could be the that’s closed down or pastor that’s imprisoned.” (Photo and header photo courtesy of Global Disciples) However, he reports, “I would say they encourage us! The conversations that I had with people there said, ‘Yes, persecution is increasing,’ and their response is sort of, ‘Bring it on. It will strengthen the Church. It will help us be more united as leaders. It will help us to focus more clearly on the mission of the Church and it will purify the Church.’ “So it is astounding to me. I would shrink from persecution or run backward. They seem to be presenting...a message they have for the Church in the West, and that is not to fear persecution. If God allows persecution, embrace it and know that God’s Kingdom will continue on in spite of man’s attempt to stop it.” As Christian leaders who are then training and supporting Indian church planters in the face of increasing persecution, these indigenous directors need spiritual encouragement. That’s where Global Disciples’ AEE comes in. Jon explains, “Our Annual Equipping Event is a time that we bring the persons that we are working with in different locations together for three days [for] a time of sharing with them, re-envisioning the work God has called us to do, building relationships -- it’s an exciting time. I describe these as a cross between a family reunion and a conference because it’s really a time of coming together as friends, as brothers.” Many of the training directors Global Disciples work with live in remote regions of India. The AEE may be the only chance they get to meet face-to-face and hear about the advance of the Gospel to the least-reached in their country. “Again and again, directors tell us, ‘I was just about to give up. I was discouraged and tired, and I came here and I’m re-energized. I’m ready to go again and I’m ready to keep preaching the Gospel,’” shares Jon. (Photo courtesy of Global Disciples) “Several of the people that I talked with in India said, ‘Global [...]

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In light of the Olympic Winter Games, a spiritual reflection

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 05:02:15 -0500

South Korea (MNN) -- The 23rd Olympic Winter Games have officially begun in PyeongChang, South Korea. The Opening Ceremonies took place Friday morning at 6 am ET and the games have been going since Wednesday. No matter who you are rooting for, it’s amazing to watch athletes from the around the world compete in sporting events after years and years of intense training. Ron Hutchcraft with Ron Hutchcraft Ministries says the Winter Olympics remind him of Colleen O’Connor, an Olympic athlete he knew before she was a champion. “It goes back actually to a Campus Life club I ran many years ago in Chicago. A young lady named Colleen would come and every morning at 5 a.m. when everybody else was still in bed, she was at the local ice skating rink -- skating, skating, skating. “Summer came and all of her classmates finally had time off to do whatever they wanted to do. Well, guess what? She was out in Colorado skating, skating, skating. There was even a tornado that hit that skating rink back near her home in the suburbs of Chicago one time and she was injured. She fought back from that injury so she could be back there skating and skating and skating. Oftentimes there was nobody there except the guy who opened up and no one even knew she showed up, but she would be there every morning.” O’Connor eventually competed in figure skating at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. At the time, Hutchcraft was with his wife, Karen, teaching at a school in Holland on youth ministry. “The Winter Olympics happened to be on the television in the little bungalow where they had me staying…. I didn’t understand a lot of it because the commentary was in Dutch, except all of a sudden they announced the name of the person who was competing from the USA -- and it was Colleen!” That year, O’Connor went on to earn a bronze medal in the Olympic ice dancing mixed event with her partner, Jim Millns. However, Hutchcraft reflects, “I knew her before anybody had ever heard of her, and I know how she got there. Now here she was the whole world knowing about her and she had been a champion. But I know how she got to be a champion. It was a thousand invisible mornings when no one ever saw her. But those invisible mornings are what made a champion. “I thought about that again today. Isn’t that true of someone who Jesus can really use to be a champion for him? A thousand invisible mornings with him is the secret of spiritual championship. It’s not what you see at the pinnacle. It’s not what you see on the platform. It’s what you see when they’re all developed into what God has raised them up to be.” When it comes to missions, Christians want to do great things for God. However, being a spiritual champion does not mean having charisma or being up in front. Being a spiritual champion means being effective in the hands of God for the advance of his Kingdom and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. To get there, Hutchcraft says, “It comes from having a non-negotiable daily time in the presence of Jesus himself where through his words you become a little more like him every day. In those times, no one knows if you do it except you and Jesus…. But even[...]

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Operation Winter Warmth: bringing heat to the former Soviet Union

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 05:01:35 -0500

Russia (MNN) – Imagine living in a region that is so cold, a warm day is one that’s still in the negatives. Now, imagine living there without heat. Warming up would be similar to jumping in a subzero freezer. Freezing Without Heat For most people in the West, people can turn on their heater or stuff their stove with a bit more wood, corn, or coal and warm themselves up. But, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, there isn’t a heater to turn on or more coal to stuff in the stove. (Photo Courtesy of SGA via Facebook) In fact, many people in these regions, a winter without heat or a good coat is their current life. But, Slavic Gospel Association is trying to meet the physical and spiritual needs of these people who often don’t have enough food, let alone money to provide heat. In areas that are war-torn, like eastern Ukraine which deal with daily shellings, the infrastructure has been destroyed to the point that “the distribution of heat into a radiator system is poor and often non-functional.” The brutal, frigid cold is a daily enemy for people without heat or other ways to stay substantially warm in the former Soviet Union. “For those that are older and are on [a] pension, a lot of times in these countries these pensions are insufficient. There is an amount that is paid out by the government. It’s barely enough to put food on the table, if enough food at all, much less buying necessary medicines,” Mock explains. “But the additional expense of thinking about wood, coal, other items to heat your home have become almost an optional extra [because of the lack of resources]…this greatly impacts babies, young children, older people.” Equipping and Getting Needs By equipping churches with the necessary resources, church members are able to visit these homes with food, heating supplies, and warm articles of clothing during the freezing winter months. Yet, these aren’t the only gifts SGA-supported churches bring on their visits. They also bring the love of Christ both in word and deed. Caring for the whole person, just as Jesus did, has a greater impact than caring for just the physical needs. “Through our Compassion Ministry, we’re bringing food to them. Through ‘Operation Winter Warmth’ we’re helping warm their homes and when they see that they’re stunned,” Mock explains. “They express 'How could people who don’t know me, care enough to come over and take care of me?' And their hearts and their minds are open to the truth of the Gospel.” Furthermore, the help is based on the needs of the geographical location. For some areas, the need might very well be for coal or other fuel sources. In other areas, there might be a greater need for socks, sweaters, and other pieces of warm winter clothing. “It’s looking at each situation, hearing from each church what’s needed, and then providing for those [needs],” Mock shares. The impact? Physical needs being met, doors opening for the Gospel, and people realizing that they matter not just to churches but also to Jesus. Give a Helping Hand And while SGA only takes donations for Operation Winter Warmth for about a month, the needs for the peopl[...]

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Growing number of Druze believers in Syria

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 05:00:23 -0500

Syria (MNN) – Every day Druze believers in Syria face struggles ranging from familial and government sanctioned persecution to a lack of resources. They are a minority in every country they live in. Yet despite the difficulties, Arab for All Ministries (AFA) reports great growth in the Druze Church. Who are the Druze? The Druze are a unique ethnic and religious group that exist primarily in four countries: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. They split off from Islam in the 11th century. The differences are very clear now. After the split, the Druze blended beliefs from other ways of thought like reincarnation and Greek philosophy into their own new religion. Druze people are notoriously secretive. The close-knit community is skeptical of outsiders because it has been heavily persecuted throughout the years. The Druze also do not engage in proselytizing, as the only way to become a Druze is to be born into a family with two Druze parents. Ministering to the Druze Despite the closed-off nature of the community, Arab for All Ministries has been burdened to reach this group. For several years now they have been planting churches and hosting Bible studies among the Druze people. Despite intense pressure for Druze to remain in their faith, our contact Issam, who works with AFA, has seen the Lord at work. Druze serving coffee (Courtesy of Itamar Grinberg with IsraelTourism on Flickr) “Years ago we planted a church in Lebanon among the Druze and God gave us another vision to go to Syria. And we planted another church in Syria and many Druze came to the Lord. They started with more leaders small groups. And now the ministry is growing like in every village, every city in Lebanon, Syria, and also Jordan.” People are coming to know Jesus as Savior and they are hungry for more knowledge about the Gospel. Druze believers in Syria Recently Issam was able to work with Druze believers for a week. He led daily Bible studies, encouraged believers and leaders, and saw the church planting ministry in Syria. Issam used Jesus’ parables to teach truth in the sessions and was encouraged by the questions people were asking. “I met more than 60 people this week and all of them were very interested to know more and more about stories from the Bible. And, of course, many of them are asking why Jesus, why the Bible, not other prophets, not other books. And I was able to share why Jesus only is the way to eternal life. And people were really, really so happy about what we’re doing there.” Bringing the Gospel to their loved ones The small group of Druze believers is growing. They are seeing the faithful witness of Jesus through AFA and the local Druze Christian leaders. However, coming to faith in Christ often means being ostracized from their family. For people in a small community, this is devastating. AFA disciples Druze believers and helps them learn how to share their new faith in Christ without immediately turning off their families. “They become like strangers in the family when they believe in Jesus. So our strategy is to teach them how to stay in the society and show the love of God through Jesus without saying[...]

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Bomb at church in Turkey raises alarm

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:02:06 -0500

Turkey (MNN) – Since the failed coup in July 2016, Christians in Turkey have seen a spike in religious persecution, including higher pressures and attacks on believers and Christian churches. Recent Attack in Turkey Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern shares about the most recent attack attempt from this past Sunday, February 4, 2018. “It was reported that a homemade pipe bomb was placed in the garden of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon. The alarm was raised and the object was found partially burned and it hadn’t exploded. It failed to explode, clearly. And, it’s noted that the incident coincided with the anniversary of the murder of Father Andrea Santoro of Santa Maria Church.” Santoro, an Italian Roman Catholic priest, was murdered on February 5, 2006, by a Muslim youth. Windsor notes intimidation and persecution of Christians like Santoro’s murder rose during 2006, 2007, and 2008. This is similar to how they have risen again in the last two years. (Photo courtesy of Middle East Concern) “It certainly feels that once again, Christians are feeling under pressure, feeling certainly, a sense of uncertainty, and discomfort at the moment, to put it mildly. And I think that is partly a result of the general situation in Turkey and picture politically,” Windsor says. Persecution at a Government Level Over the last two years, President Erdogan has used the political instability from the failed coup to unite Turkey under Islam, particularly the Sunni Muslims. “[President Erdogan] has an agenda which seems to be very nationalistic, an agenda that seems to be quite Islamist, shall we say. And for those who don’t fit into his idea of what Turkey should be like in terms of the make-up ethnically and religiously, we’ve seen a squeeze on them.” To many, being Turkish and being a Muslim go hand-in-hand. Converting to another religion is viewed as betraying not only Islam but the very nation of Turkey itself. It is corruption on a national and religious level. As a result of the religious nationalism President Erdogan has instilled, members of religious minorities have been susceptible to the intimidation and attacks from both the government and society because they are socially regarded as treasonous. According to Middle East Concern, the attempted attack on Santa Maria Church is just one of the many “worrying incidents” Christians have faced over recent months. Among the rising pressures, death threats were made against the pastor and a church worker at Balikesir Protestant Church in December. Furthermore, believers and churches have been directly pointed out and criticized in Turkish press sources, which Middle East Concern says have been “an attempt to incite unrest and opposition.” The press has acted as a tool to stir hatred in society, resulting in persecution at a local level. “Government influence on the press is significant,” Windsor says. “The press, especially on the local level seems to be very quick to point fingers at Christians in the community to incite hatred against Christians in the community, and we’re seeing this [...]

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Help grow the passionate Church in Far East Russia

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:01:57 -0500

Russia (MNN) – During the Christmas season, Slavic Gospel Association’s Eric Mock saw first-hand the fire Far East Russian churches have for ministry. On Russia’s Christmas day, January 7, while in the impoverished area of Khabarovsk, he witnessed an attention-grabbing Immanuel’s Child outreach specifically geared for local kids. Sharing Christ “I was amazed as an 11 to 12-year-old boy stepped up to the pulpit and began to preach and tell the story of Christmas,” Mock explains. “You see, in their mind, the ability to serve Christ is not limited to an age group or substantial qualifications, but it is just that which is based on a relationship with Jesus. And so, the youth were able to do this outreach.” (Photo courtesy of SGA) At the end of this program led by the youth, the church and attendees shared a meal. After the meal though, when one would think people would go home and spend time with family, these believers went into their city to share Christ with the people they didn’t reach through their Christmas program. “Instead, they all rallied together and we went outside, in below zero temperatures, and began singing Christmas carols and declaring Jesus on every street corner,” Mock shares. “I was curious what was going to happen with such a public demonstration, but what happened was people [who] walked by thanked everyone for singing…and bringing joy during the holiday season.” During the Christmas outreach season, Mock says these faithful believers find every opportunity they can to share the Gospel message. For these believers in Far East Russia, the holiday isn’t just about celebrating Christ’s birth, it’s a time to proclaim Jesus’ name and the Gospel message. All Day, Every Day In fact, Mock shares there were a lot of people he encountered at Immanuel’s Child outreaches who have heard about Christianity, but have never heard the central reason for Christianity or the Gospel. Far East Russia is full of people like the ones Mock met who don’t know Jesus or even His story. And while the Christmas outreach season is over in Russia, daily ministry is not. “Through a program we call “Reach Russia Now,” we’re trying to see many villages reached with the Gospel. There’s literally hundreds of villages there where the people there have never heard the Gospel,” Mock says. “There’s exciting opportunities and I would point your listeners to the SGA website,, where they can participate and be a part of taking the Gospel to many in the far-reaching regions and countries of the former Soviet Union.” Far East Russia is home to over 300 state-run orphanages, which Mock refers to as small villages. The kids in these orphanages haven’t heard the hope of the cross either. But, through SGA’s Orphan’s Reborn program, SGA stateside partners are helping support churches in Far East Russia with the necessary resources to visit these kids monthly, help provide for basic needs, and share Christ’s love in word and indeed. Come Alongside the Church Other ways to come alongside SGA’s partners in[...]

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Ministry has unexpected Christmas meeting with police

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:00:06 -0500

Russia (MNN) – Every year after Christmas in the United States, a team from SOAR International gets on a plane and flies off to Russia where they celebrate Christmas a second time. But this time, they're celebrating through their Stuff a Stocking program. Joanna Mangione of SOAR spoke to us about their recent trip to Russia for Stuff a Stocking. The team arrived in Ryazan just hours before the new year. “We rung in the year with the church there. Actually, the tradition is that the church prays that last hour into midnight. So we got to do that with the church.” That week, the team helped their church contact in Ryazan run a day camp for children in the church and the local community. (Photo and header photo courtesy of SOAR International) “It was a three-day long camp program that we did alongside the church [with] crafts and games and Bible stories and Bible lessons and English lessons. And it was basically a whole day program for the kids for three days in honor of the Christmas season.” Over the next few days, they began distributing the stockings. These stockings contain necessities like gloves and shampoo, as well as toys and a Bible. In total, the team was able to distribute the gifts to four different children’s homes and a bedridden home in Ryazan. On January 7th, they celebrated Christmas with the church according to the Orthodox calendar. After Ryazan, they were off to St. Petersburg. A surprise in St. Petersburg Mangione says, “The church there is doing some amazing work with rehabilitating men and women. And we’ve known them for quite some time-- have been doing this project with them for many, many years, and just last summer helped them with their summer camp. So it was really fun to get to see them again.” Here, they participated in eight distributions. Many of these locations were children’s homes and transition homes, but Mangione says their outreach is growing beyond that. “We went to even a few detention centers. We went to a sports school for kids who are brought into that opportunity. And then, we were incredibly surprised to get to actually get to do a small distribution inside a police station which even surprised our Russian brothers and sisters. “We arrived and initially, we were under the impression it was a detention center. And when we arrived we realized it was the police station and we would be doing the distribution and the Gospel presentation for the children of policemen.” Mangione says they were quite surprised and a little wary. But because they had been invited in, they went on with the distribution. “It was actually a wonderful time. It was a couple of families who came into a room that they set aside and we were able to present the Gospel. We gave them their gifts, handed out Bibles. Both the parents and the children were there.” (Photo courtesy of SOAR International) The team praises God for his protection during this unexpected visit. As it turns out, the policewoman who invited them to this particular distribution has been making a way f[...]

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Chad at financial, social breaking point

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 05:02:38 -0500

Chad (MNN) – The fall of oil prices rocked many national economies since 2014. With 60-70 percent of its revenue coming from the sale of oil, Chad was no exception. Over the last four years, the nation has been running out of money, and tension has been building. And now, the nation is at a breaking point. Protests, strikes, and arrests Early in January, the government announced they would be putting significant cuts on government employees' salaries. This resulted in a series of protests and strikes. Just a couple of weeks ago, several students were arrested after protesting the potential salary cuts of teachers. Schools were closed, and the internet was temporarily cut down in an attempt to inhibit communication about future strikes. However, unless something drastic is done, and quick, the government will soon not be able to pay their employees, anyway. Meanwhile, transport workers have also gone on strike due to increased fuel prices. The strikes against these austerity measures continue. Last week, private doctors reportedly joined the general strike in solidarity with government-paid doctors, continuing the strike into Monday. Darfurian refugees in Chad. (Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO via Flickr) Chad is the recipient of various monetary aid programs through the World Bank, the EU, the African Development Bank, and more. They are also enrolled in an aid program through the International Monetary Fund. Chad is under pressure from the latter group to cut costs in order to continue to receive aid. The nation's revenue from income tax and customs is nearly equal the government's payroll. This is why salaries have been a point of discussion, controversial though it may be. Already, nearly half of the population lives in poverty. Portions of Chad are plagued with terrorism at the hands of Boko Haram. While trying to deal with those concerns at home, the country has also assisted the African Union with troops in peacekeeping operations in other countries in the region. Chad is also a host country for refugees from Sudan, CAR, Nigeria, and more. This has put a significant financial strain on the government as they’ve struggled to fund refugee programs. The nation is in a state of social and economic failure and the people are not happy. Praying for a nation on the verge of violence Earlier this week, we received a text from our contact on the ground saying, "There are several people here from Chad and [Monday night] they announced that they just learned that [Tuesday] there will be a revolt in Chad and there is expected to be much bloodshed and suspect thousands will be killed." Indeed, Chad is no stranger to revolts and uprisings. The most recent protests are a direct response to the austerity measures being pursued by the government. And so, Chadians are shaken and nervous. Tensions are on the rise. We spoke to a Christian worker in Chad to get his take on the situation and to get some prayer requests. He says, “Right now the situation is civil servants or workers in[...]

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How the evolution of language impacts Bible translation

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 05:00:22 -0500

International (MNN) -- When you start reciting the Lord’s prayer, are you someone who says “thy Kingdom come” or “your Kingdom come”? The evolution of language isn’t unique to English-speakers. Every generation around the world has different verbiages and word meanings as language adapts. Hans Combrink, Biblica’s Global Translation Director, says this naturally has a profound impact on Bible translation. Kurdish Bible (Photo courtesy of Biblica) “We all know that languages change over time and there is no language that is static forever. Now in Biblica, we do have a number of translations in major world languages. Some of them are historic or legacy translations so they’re older. They may date back to the days of The Living Bible. But even from those days -- from the mid-70s onward -- we’ve had a commitment to keep our translations evergreen; to continually update them in terms of exegesis [and] in terms of language use to ensure that the languages remain current and contemporary and speak to today’s generation of speakers." For example, Combrink shares, “In Isaiah 3:20, we read in the King James Version of ankle chains. And today that reminds us of prison manacles rather than the jewelry that’s described, which we now refer to as anklets. “Another good example is the word ‘thong’ which referred to leather straps. But today it’s commonly referring to women’s underwear. So you know in Judges 16:7 in some of the older translations, Samson answered Delilah in saying, ‘If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have been dried, I will become weak as any other man.’ And today in the New International Version, the word is ‘bowstrings’, not ‘thongs’. Language changes and it’s important for our translations to reflect that.” Just as English Bible translations have these examples of changes in phraseology, there are examples in every language around the world of evolving verbiage. This impacts how each generation interacts with God's Word. However, while it is good and necessary to keep Bible translations in all completed languages up-to-date, what about those languages that still have no copy of God’s Word at all? Roughly one-third of the world’s languages still do not have a copy of the Bible. That’s around 300 million people currently living in the dark with no access to the Gospel. (Photo courtesy of Biblica) So where is the balance between refreshing old Bible translations, and yet making sure we are wasting no time in getting the Gospel message to those who don’t yet have on jot or tittle of Scriptural text? “One organization cannot do everything, cannot translate the Bible for both majority languages and minority languages,” says Combrink. “That’s why partnership is important.” Ministries like Biblica, Wycliffe Bible Translators, DOOR International, and many others come together in this model of partnership to collaborate for the maintenance and translation God’s Word in all languages. “We [...]

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A Call to Community: a global vision of the Body of Christ

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 05:00:52 -0500

International (MNN) – We know that community within the Body of Christ is extremely important. But as our world becomes more interconnected and globalized, what community looks like is rapidly changing. Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is one organization trying to get in front of that curve with how they approach community both within missions and in everyday life. They’re currently running a campaign called, “A Call to Community.” Kelly Chesnut of Wycliffe USA says the campaign is all about asking, ‘What does it look like to be part of God’s global community?’” She says, “Through this campaign, we’re exploring the incredible way that God brings Christians together, in community, across cultural boundaries, and ‘how can we learn more about his character through relationships with people from cultures different than our own?’” You see, exploring how we interact with people of different cultures is no longer something that’s reserved for people traveling to other countries. It’s an experience available right at home. (Photo and header photo courtesy Wycliffe USA) “The world is coming to us everywhere,” Chesnut says. “You don’t have to go overseas to interact with another culture. So, how do we as believers respond to one another in a way that promotes community and promotes the glory of God in the creation of his people and the creation of culture and language?” Chesnut explains that community is both influenced by and influences our relationship with God. It’s extremely important for the vitality of one’s faith walk. As part of this campaign, Wycliffe is offering helpful resources that encourage intentional community. Resources They are offering a seven-day devotional, a video of one missionary family’s story on community and culture, as well as several articles including 7 People who Changed the World. “This is about changing our perspective, asking God to reveal his plan. We have this perspective of asking God to reveal his plan for our life. But we want to change that to asking God what his plan is for the world, and how we fit into it.” From Martin Luther to Billy Graham, the article looks at what we can learn from historical figures who impacted thousands of lives and began global movements among the Church. Some of the other articles focus on learning about other cultures and ways we can support the Church around the world. “Because God designed us to live in community with each other, sometimes we’re not able to meet people in person, but we can create a meaningful connection by praying for people around the world,” Chesnut says. Wycliffe encourages people to adopt a Bible-less people group to pray for on a regular basis. The Gospel lived out in community So, we can recognize that the global Body of Christ is connected across cultures and countries—but why does it matter? Living in community helps us to see each other the way that God does. And when we have his heart for pe[...]

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Pastor in India murdered by Hindu extremists

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:02:05 -0500

India (MNN) – The sentiment in India is that to be truly Indian, one must be Hindu. And this religious nationalism has grown deadly enough to concern audiences in the United States. Open Doors USA’s David Curry explains, “This pastor, Pastor Gideon, was harassed and harassed, beaten over the last six months and then, of course, he’s found brutally murdered by these Hindu extremists. And the government of India, which is number 11 ... on the *World Watch List, needs to realize they are part of this.” (Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA via Facebook) Fox News recently reported on Pastor Gideon, who was supported through Voice of the Martyrs in southern India. His body, which witnesses said showed signs of torture, was found by congregation members in his home next to the Church. The attackers went so far as to string Pastor Gideon up from the ceiling to make it look like a suicide, and that’s exactly what the local authorities claimed it was. However, the harassment and physical abuse Pastor Gideon endured these past months at the hands of Hindu activists is a strong indicator that his death was an execution. And it’s these facts drawing the world's attention to the growing persecution that’s taking place in India. Unfortunately, the attack on Pastor Gideon isn’t an outlier. Christian persecution has been rising quickly in India over the last few years, despite Christians comprising less than 64 million of the country’s roughly 1.3 billion population. In other words, Christians only represent 4.76 percent of India’s population. Yet, in the course of a year, the country jumped from number 15 on the World Watch List to number 11. Rising Violence in India The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed India on its 2017 Countries of Particular Concern list as a Tier 2 country. A Tier 2 placement is reserved for countries where the USCRIF finds a government to have played a hand in instigating or tolerating serious religious freedom violations either systematically, as an ongoing matter, or egregiously. Every day, there are numerous attacks on Christians and at times even riots in India. And Curry believes India’s Prime Minister Modi is part of the problem. “They keep inciting this racial and religious violence against Christians…It’s a nationalism, it’s going to spread and it is spreading into Nepal which wasn’t on our World Watch List but jumped all the way up into the high 20s this year because of that same thing: Hindu and Indian national pride,” Curry explains. “The ambassador regularly lies about this subject. The Prime Minister distances himself from it. But his prime people are on TV regularly saying they’re going to push every Christian out of India by 2021.” It’s curious that even with the hundreds of languages and dialects spoken in India and the plurality the country has, its government and many of the people are pushing for all India[...]

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Women’s ministry opportunities grow in Indonesia

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:01:37 -0500

Indonesia (MNN) – As Indonesia continues to make plans to move its capital city to the island of Borneo, opportunities for ministry keep expanding. And while FMI has been empowering national church planters and pastors in Indonesia for the last 20 years, it’s only been since 2012 that the ministry has been working specifically with partners in Kalimantan, Borneo’s Indonesian controlled land. Good Neighbor Tactic “Many new people are moving here. We’ve had an influx of several Muslim families and we see new mosques being built. So, this migration is a great challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity,” FMI’s Bruce Allen shares. (Graphic courtesy of Forgotten Missionaries Int'l) As MNN has previously shared, one tactic Christians in Borneo use to share Christ with the newcomers is by being a good neighbor. When these Christians find people moving into the villages, they often visit the newcomers, welcome them to the community, and offer to pray in Jesus’ name with them in their new home, especially when they are sick. “The answers to prayer that the people see astound them. They go, ‘Jesus does this? Jesus cares for me?’" Allen says. “That’s very different than the Muslim concept of prayer.” And this difference is drawing people to ask more questions about Jesus. One Woman's Request In fact, after some Christians had prayed with a Muslim woman, the woman asked if the church would start a women’s ministry. This way she and other Muslim women could come and learn more about Jesus without fear. “If it’s a women’s ministry that’s, let’s say taking place in a home, more women will be encouraged [to come]. ‘Well, I’m just going over and having tea at my friend’s home,’ rather than ‘I’m going to church on Sunday morning,’ and people or friends from the mosque will be going, ‘What are you doing?’ Allen explains. “But no one’s going to question her going to her friend’s home for tea and having a conversation about Jesus or engaging in Bible study because it’s outside the structural context of a church. So, we see some great things happening already and Muslims coming to know Christ.” Growth and Support Furthermore, churches in the region are already experiencing growth. The pastor who implemented the good neighbor tactic shared with Allen that his church has grown to a congregation of 80 people in a rural village which is home to only 120 families. As minorities in a Muslim-dominant society, many Christian congregations in Indonesia have long encountered discrimination and persecution. But, these issues may intensify in coming months as the threat of ISIS grows across southeast Asia.(Photo, caption courtesy of FMI) FMI has already begun supporting five more church planters and pastors in Borneo, however, it’s clear there’s a need for even more support, including specific ministries to reach and teach women. So please, p[...]

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Deaf Bible spurring sign language Bible translations for 2033 all-access goal

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 05:00:21 -0500

International (MNN) -- The Every Tribe Every Nation movement has an incredible all-access goal for the Great Commission. This coalition of ministries is aiming to get a full Bible into every language used by at least 500,000 people by 2033. Deaf Bible Society is part of Every Tribe Every Nation alliance and is helping advance the all-access Bible translation goal -- specifically for sign languages! JR Bucklew, President of Deaf Bible Society, explains, “Our role isn’t doing translation on the ground. Our role is really highlighting the projects, bringing awareness, [and] helping resource them. We work with national partners on the ground. We recognize that as the fastest way we’re going to be able to accomplish this vision.” (Photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society) For all languages used by 5,000-500,000 people, Every Tribe Every Nation also hopes to make the New Testament available by 2033. And for languages with populations of less than 5,000, the alliance of ministries aims to get at least 25 chapters of Scripture translated by 2033. For sign languages, however, this all-access goal is easier said than done. Unlike spoken languages, there wasn't much data on sign languages even a few years ago. As we shared yesterday, the collection of data for sign languages was spurred by Deaf Bible Society and has greatly improved. This gave Bible translation initiatives a starting point for sign languages. “Deaf Bible Society’s role coming into this was saying, ‘Okay, let’s first identify how many sign languages we feel like are vital for Bible translation.’ And now we’re able to do that. ‘Let’s determine approximately the population of signers within each of those languages.’ And we’ve been able to do that.” This year, Deaf Bible Society and their ministry partners plan to start 25 new sign language Scripture translations. “To start those type of projects in 25 sign languages next year will be huge. It will be the most acceleration we’ve ever seen in sign language Bible translation.” For Bible translations to be successful for sign languages, Bucklew points out that the whole process is Deaf-centric. “The best way to do this is by starting locally sustainable sign language ecosystems where Deaf people are trained and equipped to do Bible translation and Scripture engagement work among themselves well; not for them to be eternally dependant on Deaf Bible Society.” We talk a lot about the trifecta of involvement in missions -- praying, giving, and going. But Bucklew says rather than just doing any or all of these things passively, Deaf Bible Society would love to see believers "lean in" and passionately advocate for Gospel outreach among the Deaf. (Photo courtesy of the Deaf Bible Society via Facebook) “We’re really looking for ambassadors. So how people can really help is pray, but praying in a sense of, ‘Lord, would you have[...]

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Christians plan prayer rally as Cape Town approaches Day Zero

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:02:23 -0500

South Africa (MNN) -- It sounds like the setting for an apocalyptic fiction novel. But the approach of ‘Day Zero’ for Cape Town in South Africa is far from fiction. Government officials estimate by the end of April, the city of Cape Town will run out of water -- a day they are referring to as Day Zero. Day Zero The three-year drought is considered the worst South Africa has seen in over a century. If the water is depleted, Cape Town will be one of the few major cities in the modern world to run dry. (Photo courtesy of Jouni Rajala via Unsplash) Starting this month, Cape Town residents face hiked fines if they exceed their daily water rations, which dropped from 87 liters per person, per day to just 50 liters. But that daily limit would be slashed in half again after Day Zero. Officials are in a race against time to increase groundwater production and desalination plants. Danie du Preez with Trans World Radio Africa (TWR) says, “If Day Zero comes, I think [we] will be praying for the people of Cape Town to really know how to handle the situation. People in Cape Town are not used to fetching water. There will be 200 water points in Cape Town for people to collect the minimum water per person, which will be 25 liters. So they will need to [carry] 25-liter cans, and they need to wait in queues to get water, go back home, and do that on a daily basis.” The Most Vulnerable State officials assure that if the city reaches Day Zero, schools, hospitals, and other critical businesses will still get piped water, but the amount will be severely scaled down. A big concern is for those most vulnerable in the Cape Town metropole community -- families living in rural areas, the elderly, and young kids. “Many parents are concerned for the children. I know they are speaking of maybe sending children up to the north...where at least they will be there for a period of time until the situation gets better,” shares du Preez. “I think the other big concern is where it could be possible that riots could break out for people not able to handle the pressure and the situation.” Christians Gathering for Prayer Christians in Cape Town have gathered throughout the past several months to pray for their community and for the Lord to send rain. The next large-scale prayer gathering called "It’s Time" will be on March 24th. Du Preez explains, “The Body of Christ will gather and pray specifically for issues within Cape Town, but specifically for the weather situation and for the water crisis. All South African Christians are really trusting...for the Lord to come through. But I think the biggest concern is what will happen after Day Zero. And we trust the Lord Day Zero will never come, that he will intervene.” "It’s Time" is organized by farmer evangelist Angus Buchan and promoted by other ministries. The location for the massive prayer gathering[...]

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Bethany Christian hires new president

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:01:31 -0500

International (MNN) -- After 12 years of service, Bethany Christian Services' Bill Blacquiere has stepped down from the role of President and CEO. Now, after choosing one out of the 50 candidates who applied for the position, Bethany has hired the organization’s fifth president: Chris Palusky. “I’ve known about Bethany and I’m excited to even have the opportunity to talk about Bethany. When they were going through the recruitments-- it’s one of the largest social service organizations in the world and they help a lot of kids, so I was excited to have that conversation,” Palusky says. A Passion to Serve Palusky has served in ministry for 20 years with a focus on international relief and development. He has worked with World Relief and as World Vision’s US Vice President of Private Funding and Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs. His work has taken him all over the globe, including Asia, Latin America, and the Balkans. Palusky has a driving passion to serve at-risk children, which is one of the reasons he was drawn to work with Bethany. “Bethany is also focused on the well-being of children in the U.S. and across the globe,” he says. “Even more pivotal to that, there’s a lot of organizations out there that work with kids for the well-being of children, but faith – faith is also very important to me. And Bethany has a tradition of leaders and an organization that faith is the foundation of it.” (Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services via Facebook) Palusky is excited to be on board with more than 1,500 staff members full of faith in what God can do with a vision to serve vulnerable children and families. Palusky says faith is simply part of who the organization is, which is imperative in the challenges ahead. A Firm Foundation As Palusky moves forward, he knows the world has changed significantly in recent years, shaping the work Bethany does. Refugee crises and conflicts have broken families and endangered children all over the world. And in the U.S., where Bethany works in 40 states, Palusky has seen that “more and more children are in need of foster care.” Since Bethany helps with local and international foster care and adoption as well as refugee resettlement, there's a lot of work ahead. But Palusky says Bethany has a firm foundation that turns these challenges into opportunities to serve vulnerable families and children around the globe and in the U.S. “It’s an opportunity because Bethany has, again, a strong history, [and has] been around for 75 years doing social services,” he says. “And we have very professional staff. So, I think that we’ve got a good reputation, and we know what the challenges are... [but] we’ve got a wonderful team of people that know the business and know what needs to be done.” Short and Long Term Goals for Bethany In the next few we[...]

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Why is it so hard to get statistics on Deaf communities and sign languages?

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:34 -0500

International (MNN) -- Getting statistics on the Deaf community is like nailing jelly to a tree. That’s what JR Bucklew with Deaf Bible Society says. When Deaf Bible's ministry began a few years ago, there weren’t adequate statistics available on how many Deaf people and sign languages are in the world. Some sources identified around 200 sign languages. Some said there are over 400 or even 800 sign languages. But nobody knew for sure. One issue is a lot of countries even don’t recognize sign languages as official languages and they don’t include Deaf identification in their censuses. (Photo and header photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society) Other countries that do recognize sign languages sometimes require formal self-identification by the signers. But not all Deaf communities know they need to formally register their sign language or why that would be beneficial. Another problem that comes with identifying the Deaf population is even the definition of ‘deaf’. “How deaf is Deaf? Uncle Bob who turned 85 and lost his hearing? Well, that’s not exactly who we’re talking about, is it? We’re talking about native sign language users, people that grew up in a more core Deaf environment, whose thought processes have been developed differently because of their visual nature.” The best data on the global Deaf population comes from the World Federation of the Deaf. According to their estimations, Deaf people who use sign language for primary communication make up at least one percent of the global population. “One percent may not seem like much, but that puts us at over 3.5 million people here in the US. That is a ton of people.” Bucklew says the statistics or lack thereof affected their ability initially to pursue Bible translations for sign languages. (Photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society) “We sort of entered into this movement in the Bible translation world where our partner organizations that are focused on spoken languages have really, really solid numbers that tell them how many languages are left in the world that need a Bible, that don’t have any Scripture, and so they’ve been able to formulate some really awesome goals. Wycliffe and their affiliates have a goal of starting Bible translation in every language by 2025. The Every Tribe, Every Nation movement wants to have certain completion goals done by 2033. “Where sign languages came into the mix, we said, ‘Well, hey, wait a minute. None of those lists included sign languages.’ And a large reason for that was people really just didn’t know how many sign languages were out there.” So Deaf Bible Society set out to nail jelly to the tree. “About a year ago, Deaf Bible Society commissioned a team of people and we said, ‘Look, we know that this isn’t going to be the final number, but get[...]

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Russia proves valuable for ISIS recruitment

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 05:02:55 -0500

Russia (MNN) – Russia has been considered a fertile ground for ISIS recruiters for some time now, specifically in the small area of Chechnya. The DW shared that the region has helped make Russia one of the top places for ISIS recruitment. Chechnya, located in Southern Russia nestled between the Black and Caspian Seas, lies near the borders of Turkey and Iran. “Chechnya is one of the republics within the Russian Caucasus that tends to be Muslim-dominated. In those regions, there is a very strong Islamic contention there, and if you remember, back in the ‘90s there was quite a bit of bloodshed there,” Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith explains. “There was a war that was fought between Chechnya and separatists and the Russian government. So, it is sort of a hotbed.” (Map courtesy of SGA) Between the violence in the region and the mix of religions, the Russian government along with the republics which exist in this region have been concerned about the potential and danger of radical activity. Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is a former fighter who now works to try and keep extremist recruitments in Chechnya at bay. A Recruiter’s Edge The Russian government poured resources into the area and helped rebuild it after the war, giving the people more opportunities than what was available during the ‘90s. However, despite the government’s best efforts, high unemployment rates and a lack of hope persists. Along with the demographics of the area, many terror researchers believe this is why Chechens continue to be drawn to join ISIS. But Griffith has a different take. “Any time that you have basically false religions engaged, you know you’re going to have a spiritual component to that and that just has to be recognized. And if you have that sort of a trigger going on, somebody’s going to be attracted by an ideology. And that ideology, you know the people like the Islamic State, they're able to take those social ills and leverage that to employ the radical ideology in the mindset of the younger people there.” Officially, at least 800 Chechens have left to fight for ISIS. However, the actual number is expected to be much higher. But while the situation in Chechnya may seem like a lost battle, there’s still hope through the Gospel. Sharing Hope Churches in Chechnya have faced challenges in the area for years, but they’ve learned to quietly do their work and share the Gospel by following two commandments; loving God and loving people. “That’s ultimately, in the end, if you can get the Gospel into these regions and if you have people with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit inside, living out a Christian witness day by day, showing the love of Jesus Christ and then offering the hope and the transformed life that’s possible th[...]

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January: a month for religious freedom

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 05:01:51 -0500

International (MNN) – January was a remarkable month for religious freedom. From the announcement of January 16th as Religious Freedom Day to the release of Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, persecution of Christians has been at the forefront of the news. Here are a few of the top events. Countries of Particular Concern Early in January the State Department released their list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious freedom. Since 1998 the Secretary of State has designated governments and special groups that engage in severe, sponsored, and continual religious freedom violations. This year the list includes 16 first tier countries of particular concern as well as another 12 tier two countries. For the first time ever, the Secretary also included a Special Watch List. The announcement recognized many of the countries Christian organizations like Open Doors have called out as intolerant for years. While the list itself does not designate what actions to take against countries with severe religious freedom violations, it does encourage believers that those outside the Christian community are taking note. Open Doors’ World Watch List Closely following this list was Open Doors’ World Watch List. Since the 1970s Open Doors has been documenting persecution of Christians around the world. 2018 World Watch List naming the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. (Image courtesy of Open Doors) David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA says, “Open Doors monitors the intensity faced by Christians around the world, and the World Watch List quantifies what we see. This year, as incidents of violence related to persecution have increased—especially those related to women, it is imperative we continue to advocate and call leaders to prioritize issues of religious freedom.” Unsurprisingly for 2018 North Korea topped the list again (as it has for the last 16 years). However, Afghanistan was only one point behind North Korea, which marked an increase in levels of persecution from 2017. The numbers are sobering. But this list provides a way for Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters around the world and find organizations that support Christians in persecuted areas. Demolition of the Golden Lampstand Church On the heels of the Watch List debut, the Chinese government demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in the Shanxi Province. While not out of keeping with government policies, it highlighted again the lack of religious freedom for Christians in China. The government-run church is considered okay, but non-registered churches are not. (Image screenshot courtesy of ChinaAid) Curry recognizes an interesting pattern in the government’s actions. “This is a pattern that has develo[...]

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Urgent surgery needed for six-year-old Mary

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 05:00:19 -0500

Ghana (MNN) – Six years old is a time when children seem to have boundless energy. When exhaustion comes only after a long day of playing and learning. But for six-year-old Mary, life isn’t like that. Brianne McKoy, Relationship Manager of Bloggers for Compassion International says, “Mary is a sweet beautiful six-year-old child living in desperate poverty in Ghana. And at about six months old, she started having complications. And her parents were able to take her to a hospital, but they weren’t able to get her the care that she needed because it’s expensive. “And since six months 'til now, she’s been living with this condition—this hole in her heart. And it just makes life very difficult for her. She can’t play without running out of breath. She can’t walk long distances without needing to sit down.” (Photo and header photo courtesy of Brianne McKoy) Mary’s rare condition is called Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Ventricular Septal Defect (VCD) and Sub-aortic Membrane. Along with running out of breath and being tired, Mary is more susceptible to illness and has lost weight because of a loss of appetite. She is even at risk for an early death. In other words, Mary isn’t living the life of a typical child. Her quality of life, McKoy says, is quite horrible. But last May, she was introduced to a local church in her community. This church happens to be a partner church with Compassion International. And as soon as she could get registered with Compassion’s program, they intervened. And now, Compassion is raising money to help get Mary the surgery she needs to be healed. For an open-heart surgery, they’re trying to raise $15,000. Compassion International exists to release children from poverty in the name of Jesus. McKoy explains that this surgery for Mary falls under that umbrella goal: “Poverty comes in all kinds of different forms: not having enough food, not having clean water, not having the ability to get education, and not having the ability to get regular medical checkups. And so, as Compassion’s mission to release the child from poverty, we need to attack all areas of poverty, including the medical side.” “She was constantly losing weight, running a very high body temperature regularly, coughing seriously and profusely sweating all the time, and she had a lot of boils,” said Mary’s mother, Susana, of her daughter as an infant. (Photo and quote courtesy of Compassion International) Compassion’s Medical Assistance fund is for children whose needs go beyond regular checkups and routine medicine. But since Mary’s surgery is so urgent, they’ve also started up a GoFundMe page to raise that money. You can read more about Mary’s story at McKoy’s blog, here. [...]

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Indonesia makes plans to move capital city to Borneo

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:02:26 -0500

Indonesia (MNN) – Indonesia is crawling forward with plans to move its capital city from Jakarta on the island of Java, to the island of *Borneo. However, exactly where on Borneo the capital city will be moved is yet to be determined. Further Assessment Currently, a national development planning agency is in the process of doing technical assessments of things such as soil conditions, ease of access for construction teams, and more. More than likely the area the capital is moved to will be specifically designed just for government use. In other words, they’re looking for a location which is in pristine condition and only needs to be developed. Training conference with FMI in Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of FMI) It’s important the location is in pristine condition not just for the ease of access and a smoother development period, but it also helps keep costs low. The government is looking at spending around $74 million on the move. However, in previous years it would have taken much more than that just to move the capital city across the island of Java. With that said, the government is doing well at making the move as cost-effective as it can. Why the move, though? “While Indonesia sits in the ‘ring of fire’ of volcanic activity and earthquakes and things like that, Jakarta’s right on the coast and it’s right near where a lot of tectonic plates do shift. And so, that’s why there’s a lot of this settling going on and sinking [of] up to seven inches a year,” FMI’s Bruce Allen shares. Combined with the fact the island is literally sinking back into the ocean, Jakarta was originally designed to sustain 3 million to 5 million residents. The city has gone long past that threshold and is actually one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. And with housing that many people over capacity, Jakarta can’t function properly as a city, for example with waste management. Even if the capital city wasn’t being moved off of the island, the verdict is it still needs to move somewhere else. Multi-layered Decision A less severe reason for the move is that the government wants to be more centrally located in the country. Java is one of the larger far east islands making up the country. This makes it difficult for Indonesian citizens on the other side of the country to participate in government or even access its government. On the other hand, Borneo is centrally located in the country. And not only is Borneo centrally located, but it actually shares the island with two other countries: Malaysia and Brunei. Indonesia currently owns the largest portion of the island, which is called Kalimantan. In the past year, FMI’s partners in Indonesia have seen a lot more developm[...]

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Serving the last unreached people groups in Zimbabwe and Zambia

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:01:11 -0500

Africa (MNN) -- Being a member of the Alliance for the Unreached, ZimZam Global has a passion to see the last 2.5 billion unreached people hear the Gospel. They were founded in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and have spread to other African countries and India. However, they recently discovered their work in witnessing to unreached people groups in Zimbabwe and Zambia isn’t finished. President and CEO of ZimZam Global, Dave Meyers, attended the Finishing the Task conference, which has a vision “to see every people group in the world engage with an indigenously led church-planting movement.” At the conference, the list of unreached people groups was shared and Meyers was surprised to find there were a total of four people groups in Zimbabwe and Zambia yet to hear the Gospel. The interesting thing is, the people are Chinese. Unreached Chinese People Groups in Africa “Wherever I go, especially in Africa, Chinese are there because they’re there with their cement. They’re building roads. They’re building infrastructure. And so, I feel like because of that reason, God is using that, bringing these Chinese who are building roads through the country, and has given us an open road, if I could say a current day ‘Roman road’, to be able to talk to them, present the Gospel, see kids reach for the Gospel and new churches being planted,” Meyers explains. (Photo by Guilherme Romano on Unsplash) Though Meyers wasn’t expecting to minister to Chinese people groups in Africa, he believes God has given ZimZam new opportunities to share the Gospel. He hopes to use ZimZam leaders on the ground to train, equip, and send the Chinese people out so they can witness to others both in Africa and in Asia. Because these groups have been in Africa, they’ve learned to assimilate into the culture. Looking ahead, this will be beneficial as they go out and witness to the nationals in Africa. However, it will also be useful to ZimZam leaders who will share the Truth with them because they’ll be able to find similar ground. “I’ve got leaders on the ground that we’ve trained that I think could actually go in there and know the language-- know the culture,” Meyers says. A Task at Hand As ZimZam gets ready to move forward, they know taking on the work of ministering to a new people group is a big task. Taking on four, however, could be overwhelming. Yet the leaders with ZimZam have plenty of experience and background knowledge in sharing the Truth with unreached and unengaged people. For example, Meyers worked with Ethnos360, formerly known as New Tribes Mission, an organization that seeks to reach every tribe and people with the Word of God. Meyers says he knows i[...]

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Excellence in the Great Commission

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:00:38 -0500

United States (MNN) – We just finished up the Grammys and the Golden Globes award ceremonies and are headed towards the Oscars. Awards are a huge part of our society, not just when it comes to celebrities. Car manufacturers, restaurants, movie theaters, and more strive to receive recognition for being the best of the best. But how do awards and recognition fit into the Great Commission? Christians know that our ultimate award awaits us in heaven. But on earth, recognition can serves as a means of accountability, transparency, and the pursuit of excellence. Recognition also motivates and refocuses ministries. Wycliffe Bible Translators USA recently received the GuideStar Platinum Seal recognition. This means that Wycliffe has been diligent in measuring progress, has improved their impact, and continues to look for ways to be more effective. Chris Winkler of Wycliffe explains, “We’ve been really blessed to be honored with the GuideStar Platinum Seal and status with Guidestar. Guidestar is one of the largest independent evaluators of nonprofits in the country. And one of the things we’ve been striving for is to be fully transparent with the public, with our donors, those that are wanting to pray with us, those that are wanting to serve with us.” Wycliffe works in many areas of the world, but all Bible Translation projects take hard work, diligence, and collaboration (photo courtesy of Wyclffe USA via facebook) Financial transparency is important in building trust with donors and volunteers in both secular organizations and Christians organizations. But for the latter, the transparency has to do with honoring God. “We do feel that we should be doing everything as unto the Lord, whether that’s translating God’s Word or whether it’s working with our finances. In our culture, we tend to demand excellence from our sports teams, from our retails stores. “But in my thinking, we need to be striving for excellence when dealing with some of the most important things that God has called us to, like the translation of God’s Word, church planting. The souls of men and women are at stake and they deserve nothing less than our absolute best.” Winkler says they’ve been blessed by the thousands of people in the United States praying and supporting their work financially. He understands that this group of supporters cares about transparency and knowing that the resources they give are going to good use. (Image courtesy of Wycliffe USA). It comes down to this: In their work as Bible translators, Wycliffe is a steward of the people, prayers, and funds that God has given them. “They’re not Wycliffe’s—those are G[...]

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North Korea: the nation with few Christian children — if any

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 05:00:43 -0500

North Korea (MNN) -- Being a parent is hard. It’s even harder if you don’t feel the freedom to tell your kids about your own faith. This is the reality for North Korean Christian parents raising their children. Open Doors USA’s Lindy Lowry reports there are very few Christian children in North Korea -- if any. This is because a young child doesn’t always understand the danger and what could happen if they mention their faith to the wrong person. (Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA) We spoke with Kristin Wright, Director of Advocacy for Open Doors USA, and she says there truly is a lot at stake for parents. “To share the Gospel with your child or to teach your child about your religious faith or inform them of that would be really something that would not only put you in jeopardy but it would also really jeopardize your child’s future. “For one thing, if you are a Christian in North Korea, chances are you’re going to be locked up in a modern day concentration camp…. Christians are actually targeted by their entire families. So when you become a Christian in North Korea or if you are a Christian, you can rest assured that not only you but your entire family is going to be relentlessly persecuted for that crime.” Open Doors USA recently told the story of Lee Joo-Chan, a man who grew up in North Korea, escaped, and is now a pastor in China. Lee says in North Korea his Christian parents never told him about their faith. Lee shares with Open Doors: “I knew my parents were different. Everybody called them ‘communist parents,’ because they took care of the sick, the poor and the needy. At night, they read from a secret book, which I wasn’t allowed to read from. But I heard them whisper the words, and I knew it was their source of wisdom. I also knew that if I ever talked about this to someone else, our family would be taken away.” Eventually, Lee escaped North Korea, and his mother escaped after him. It wasn’t until he met up with his mother in China that she finally was able to let him in on the “family secret”. At long last, Lee’s mother told him about Jesus. Open Doors points out that some North Korean Christian parents do reveal the truth of the Gospel to their children when they’re considered old enough. But not all feel the freedom to do so. North Korea is number one on the Open Doors World Watch List with the top countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. (Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA) Wright shares, “It’s been on the top for years and years now. I think there’s something to be said for that top position on the World Watch List bec[...]

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Return of Rohingyas to Myanmar delayed

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 05:01:57 -0500

Myanmar (MNN) -- Myanmar and Bangladesh officials have been discussing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar within the next two years. Plans to begin sending refugees back were set for January 23, but have been delayed as Bangladesh officials questioned the safety of those who would return and if they were returning voluntarily. And they’re not the only ones. Other officials and leaders have raised concerns as well. Concerns about Safety for Rohingyas Returning Asian Access’s Pastor Peter* has been in contact with Christian workers supporting and encouraging those in refugee camps in Bangladesh. After speaking with them, he says it’s difficult to know if the Rohingya people will be safe should they return anytime soon. There is still the question that hangs in the air: Will Myanmar forces abstain from violent attacks and other forms of oppression if the Rohingyas return? UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth has also commented on the safety of the people. He recently visited refugee camps and said while people hope to return to their villages eventually, they don’t want to go right now. “This moment is not safe to go back,” Forsyth said. “We have to improve the security situation inside Myanmar to send them back.” Documentation Problems Yet, even if officials give the ‘greenlight’ for the Rohingya to begin returning, many no longer have documentation after fleeing the massacre by Myanmar forces. (Photo courtesy of Dinis Bazgutdinov via Unsplash) Joe Handley, President of Asian Access shared in an email, “As they tried to return, they found out that the Myanmar government had taken their papers when they left so they couldn’t prove they had resident status in Myanmar.” Now without documentation, many Rohingya no longer have legal status to return and are stuck in refugee camps. Without proper documentation, it’s almost like they never existed. “They are so much [worried] about the documents,” Pastor Peter says. “And they said that in order to have a document, they have to pay money. One person has to pay 70,000 Kyat.” 70,000 Kyat is equal to about $53 USD. And with the majority of the Rohingya people being impoverished, $53 is an extreme sum that they cannot afford for one person, much less a family. “Those who do not have the document, they have to make a new [one]. So, these things are going on there, and I’m afraid that many may not be able to come back to Myanmar,” Pastor Peter says. The Washington Post reports this isn’t the first time these people have been repatriated. For some, this would be[...]

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Churches unashamedly share the Gospel message through Immanuel’s Child

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 05:00:53 -0500

Russia (MNN) – Slavic Gospel Association's Eric Mock recently returned after participating in Immanuel’s Child outreaches with churches in Far East Russia. Immanuel's Child Immanuel’s Child is an opportunity for faithful believers and churches in the United States to stand behind churches in places like Far East Russia, and empower them to share the Gospel through Christmas outreaches. And in these areas where SGA partners with churches, Christmas isn’t celebrated on December 25th but January 7th. (Photo Courtesy of SGA via Facebook) Immanuel's Child Outreach 2018. Through donations made to Immanuel’s Child, SGA provides resources for churches to put on a Christmas production and reach out into their communities with the Gospel story. “For every gift that comes to Immanuel’s Child, we’re providing the resources to the church for a gift for the children which usually includes some sweets. They love candy as well as warm items of clothing, [and]it includes a Bible," Mock explains. "It [also]includes a paper star...with a name of a family...[who have] commitment really to pray for whoever the child is that receives the star. And also we send the church Sunday school materials so they can continue the process of discipleship throughout the year.” The resources equip churches in putting together their outreaches. And while Christmas in the West is often accompanied with time spent with family and an exchange of gifts, that’s not necessarily the case in Russia or Far East Russia. It’s also an opportunity to declare Christ’s love and kingship. Resourcing for Outreach Immanuel’s Child particularly equips Churches to reach out to the unbelieving children and their families in the local community. Mock had the opportunity to join churches in Far East Russia and partake in their outreaches. But, there was one particular experience that stuck out. “We entered into what used to be known as a palace of culture, or a palace of fine arts. It was a three-level theater. Over the top of the stage was a large emblem of a hammer and sickle…In this theater, each of the pillars was adorned with people who were the heroes of the Soviet Union,” Mock describes. (Photo Courtesy of SGA via Facebook) Immanuel's Child Outreach 2018. “There in this theater, four churches worked together to tell the Christmas story. A play on the stage underneath the symbol...a symbol of atheism and oppression [of] the Christian faith, there was acted out by the church in clear proclamation of the Gospel the Christmas story—and what an amazing thing to see.[...]

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Syrian refugees freeze to death crossing into Lebanon

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 05:02:18 -0500

Lebanon (MNN) -- The UN recently reported that as January 18 transitioned into the 19th, 13 Syrians froze to death while trying to enter Lebanon. At least two of the 13 were children. Why? Syrians Still Entering Lebanon “The legitimate legal border crossings for Syrians to get into Lebanon are closed to Syrians coming into Lebanon. That does not mean they’re not coming, though that’s what the news reports. They are coming, they’re coming over the mountain,” Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema explains. “I think it was four or five children and moms were frozen to death on top of the mountain coming over into Lebanon just this yesterday [January 19 to 20]. There’s another storm surge coming tonight as we’re doing this interview. It’s not going away; it’s only going to get worse.” (Photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon via Facebook) Lebanese authorities are still looking for people who have been reportedly trapped in the freezing mountain. The fact that these people were willing to risk their lives in extreme temperatures, entering a country teetering on the brink of a proxy war, should tell us just how bad conditions are at home. That said, fleeing to Lebanon isn’t a solution to these refugees’ fears. It’s a way of surviving. Once they arrive in the new country, many of them still don’t know where their next meal will come from; most are forced by their conditions to live at or below the poverty line in Lebanon. And nearly all Syrians face an unwelcoming attitude in the country. Meeting Capacity Despite the Lebanese government's reports that there around 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees living in the country, Atema shares this number is closer to 2-2.2 million. Regardless of the exact number, Lebanon is at its breaking point. “The country just can’t handle it anymore. And so, you have this growing tension and the army just last week moved two of the tent settlements that we work in…150 feet to the left just because they wanted to, just to make life miserable,” Atema explains. “And they were so bold as to say that to the people we serve and to our staff.” These conditions have refugees living in total despair. Yet, it’s when people are in this despair that the Church has the obligation, responsibility, and privilege to show Christ’s compassionate heart. And when this is done, many refugees begin asking questions like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’ “The more you have a conversation with them, the more you bring them in, the more hope they receive, and th[...]

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Mexico: drugs, poverty, and violence blot out hope

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 05:01:34 -0500

Mexico (MNN) – In 2017, Mexico saw one of the highest homicide rates in several years with nearly 30,000 murders. Just recently, the US State Department issued a travel warning for five Mexican states. One of the main factors in this recent spike in violence is drug trafficking. Sadly, children are not exempt from the consequences of illegal drug activity. Compassion International recognizes these challenges in their outreach to communities in Mexico. As is the case with their work in other nations, Compassion is working to break children out of poverty and the challenges that go with it, in Jesus name. Snapshot of Mexico’s drug problem Mexico’s location has a lot to do with the level of drug activity taking place within its borders. Drugs typically travel up, either from South America or Mexico itself, into the United States where there is heavy consumption of drugs. These include marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. In fact, Mexico is the leading foreign supplier of many drugs including marijuana and cocaine. Less than a decade ago, the sale of marijuana from Mexico into the United States generated the largest income for drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. As more and more states in the US legalize marijuana and more people grow it within US borders, drug cartels are switching up their game, turning to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. But the problem isn’t just about the passage of drugs through Mexico or the violence this activity creates. There is plenty of drug use going on within Mexico, especially among younger generations. Mexican youth particularly vulnerable Omar Villagran is the National Director of Mexico for Compassion International. They work with nearly 200 local churches of different denominations in eight different states. They focus on communities where poverty is prevalent in order to reach tens of thousands of children in need. But drugs are just one of the many problems they encounter. He says, “One of the biggest [challenges] is the family disintegration. In the very poor communities, families disintegrate because father and mother-- they have to work. And sometimes the father has to migrate to other places and so the families are by themselves and the mother has to work for the children.” He explains that the lack of male leadership is taking its toll in these communities. And because there are few resources in these areas, some youths will leave home to try and find better opportunities in education and employment in bigger cities. But, Villagran says, they [...]

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China Partner has big plans for 2018

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 05:00:08 -0500

China (MNN) -- Last year, China Partner started a new pastoral retreat program, revitalized efforts of the Chinese Church to reach young people, and equipped over 1,000 Christian leaders to reach their neighbors with the love and truth of Christ. In 2018, China Partner’s Erik Burklin says they’re planning to continue building the kingdom of God with the same vigor and mission they’ve always had. “What we always do and have been doing for the years God has called us into this mission is to focus on the Word of God,” Burklin said. “Our main mission is to serve the Church in China as they reach their people for Jesus Christ, so our ministry is all focused on equipping the indigenous Chinese Church leadership.” Photo Courtesy China Partner That mostly happens via short-term training seminars. Programs like the new “Youth Serve” initiative that help Chinese pastors prepare for youth ministry are starting up as early as March, and training will continue throughout the coming year. But while last year was about introducing new programs, 2018 is about checking in with those trainees. That will start with a follow-up to last year’s March training and will continue into May and October. China Partner will be working “in partnership with Global Lead, a missions organization out of the Philippines that specifically exists to train pastors in youth ministry.” There are also several churches asking for new help. Leaders in the Jiangsu province have asked China Partner to help them conduct a pastoral retreat in November, and other churches report pastors looking for the kind training and support China Partner can provide. But even if China Partner plans on doing business as usual in 2018, China’s political climate might not cooperate. According to Burklin, thanks to China’s unique cultural and political standing, “A lot of religious activities are under scrutiny, and everything is controlled. “Right now, we have heard that there are going to be some political changes happening in regards to religious freedoms in China,” Burklin added. “These are going to be implemented on February 1.” Photo Courtesy China Partner That doesn’t mean anyone is giving up. “In spite of all that reality, the Church has a sense of understanding who they are in Christ,” Burklin said. “Our friends and our partners in China have told us ‘Yes, we understand that this might change some things for us, but nevertheless, we will stay focused on what God has call[...]

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Iran faces growing rates of suicide, depression, and drug abuse

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 05:02:35 -0500

Iran (MNN) – A deadly trend has overtaken Iran over the last few decades. According to Heart4Iran, Iran has some of the highest rates of suicide, depression, drug abuse, and divorce. Sadly, people often turn to drugs and crime to cope with poverty, unemployment, and oppression from the government. By some reports, depression has even doubled in the last couple of decades. It’s a big problem growing ever larger. But one organization believes they have the hope people need to break from these chains of despair. Edwin Abnous of Heart4Iran says, “This is not a sudden spike. And I believe what we’re witnessing as far as drug addiction goes, it’s a national epidemic. And there’s all sorts of reasons for that. I think one of the main [reasons] that we’re seeing that is because [it’s just] available.” Iran is in the middle of a drug trafficking route from Afghanistan into Europe and so drugs are always prevalent. Abnous explains that the problem is so widespread that it doesn’t select people from any specific demographic. Families from all economic classes are affected. Even the most religious families are struggling with drugs. (Image capture courtesy of Heart4Iran) “Besides the drug trafficking that’s happening through Iran, other reasons contribute to this as well. The sanctions that Iran has experienced over the years, the isolation from [the] international community, some unemployment that is happening inside the country, the serious economic challenges that especially Iranian youth are facing-- these are all causes that drug addiction has [become] a national epidemic.” And tied to the drug problem is depression and suicide. “The suicide rate is another outcome of these challenges that Iranians are facing. I’ve been reading some statistics about the suicide rate. And they say in the last [five years], there’s a 66 percent increase among Iranian women, and 71 percent among men.” And while each individual faces their own set of challenges and trials, Abnous says the foundation of these difficulties is the same across the board: “We believe that underneath of all of these, there is a spiritual battle going on.” Heart4Iran’s main focus is to preach the Gospel through the media they share on TV and through social media. This happens primarily through their ministry arm, Mohabat TV. They know that the message of Jesus is key to fighting off depression and addiction. (Image capture courtesy of Heart4Iran) [...]

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TWR flips switch on new transmitter for a larger reach

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 05:01:06 -0500

Bonaire (MNN) -- On Tuesday, January 30, the island of Bonaire will be filled with Trans World Radio’s staff celebrating as the ministry flips the switch to a stronger service at 4:30 pm EST. With the new transmitter, TWR is ushering in a historic era of Christian broadcasting in Latin America and the Caribbean. New Transmitter Launch “We’re increasing our power from 100,000-watts to 450,000-watts. And it’s an AM station. It will cover all the way from Central Brazil all the way to the Southern part of the United States at night,” TWR’s President Lauren Libby shares. (Photo Courtesy of TWR) “In fact, this upgrade is increasing by 100 million people (potential listening audience) in the Bonaire range from the Bonaire station. We’re now calling it Shine 800 AM. And so Shine 800 AM will be shining the name of Jesus all across northern Latin American down into Brazil, particularly Cuba at night.” Once it goes live, this transmitter will make TWR the largest AM station in the Western Hemisphere. However, it’s taken five years and 3.8 million dollars to make this incredible dream a reality. Still, Libby says TWR is excited to see how the new transmitter is going to impact lives in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Brazil. A Need Answered TWR began broadcasting Christian programs from the island in 1964. But it wasn’t until recent years when listeners on the edge of the broadcast range began calling for better access to TWR’s programming. Furthermore, TWR’s ability to reach its audience using its own transmitter has grown more important in places like Venezuela, where many radio stations airing the Spanish translation of TWR have been shut down. But now, TWR can broadcast directly into the country on its own. (Photo Courtesy of TWR via Facebook) “You know, people really view this as a spiritual resource. Pastors use it in terms of message preparation because they listen to the teaching on the air and then they turn right around and share it with their house churches,” Libby shares. “I think in terms of outreach to new people, and in terms of helping people become established in field ministry on the ground, this station will be a real asset to that.” In the past, TWR has even received calls from a listener in Cuba, a country where TWR’s reach has been sporadic. But now, people in the country will be able to listen to Shine 800 AM regularly. Libby hopes that with this larger broadcast r[...]

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Audio Scripture Ministries preparing beta release of biblical app in India

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 05:00:06 -0500

India (MNN) -- You know when you have a question about the Bible or your faith? Who do you go to with your question? Your pastor? Another Christian family member? A mentor? In India, there are a lot of believers who don’t have anybody else to go to with their faith questions. Although India is the second-most populous country in the world with over 1.2 billion people, only 2.1 percent of the population are professing Christians. JP Sundararajan with Audio Scripture Ministries explains, “You’re listening to Scripture and you are in a community that is so isolated from other Christians or other churches in the area and you have a question and you don’t know who to talk to about these questions that you have based on listening to Scripture.” But soon, ASM will release the beta version of an app in India that will have biblical content and also seek to answer spiritual questions submitted by believers. “We would collect those questions and work with a team of theologians and pastors and missionaries and respond to these questions via podcast.” Sundararajan says the inspiration for this app came from learning that India has one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world. “We kept thinking, ‘Well, if people already have audio devices in their pockets, what can we use to leverage those smartphones?’ So an app came to mind! But we didn’t want just to make it a standard streaming app because we have enough of those in the market. Couple that with the fact that a big portion of India -- even though they are moving into the smartphone world -- remains largely nonliterate, we kind of needed an app that could stream the audio Bible recorded, but could also do it [in] communities that still are unable to read and write.” ASM has received a lot of support and at this point, the app is fully funded. While they are excited about the possibilities this app will open for ministry in India, Sundararajan says this doesn't diminish the importance of their audio Bible players and the need those fill for the spread of the Gospel. “Our ministry in India continues with our current audio players and recording Scriptures, and that is growing at a pace that is continuing to escalate every year. We have distributed more audio Bibles [and] recorded more Scriptures in the last few years than we ever have in our history.” (Photo courtesy of Crista Ballard Photography via Audio [...]

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Open Doors enthusiastic about Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 05:00:20 -0500

USA (MNN) -- The United States Senate has officially confirmed Governor Sam Brownback to the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The confirmation took place Wednesday with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence. Open Doors USA has been calling for the US government to fill this position as a critical move to defend religious minorities around the world. They are encouraged by Brownback's confirmation in this role. Kristin Wright, Director of Advocacy for Open Doors USA, shares, “As advocates for religious freedom and as advocates for the persecuted Church, we’re really excited just to have a leader within the State Department with access who can implement foreign policy changes that have to do with religious freedom around the world.” Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) While in the Senate, Brownback spoke out about human rights abuses, especially in Sudan and North Korea. He also served as co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. “Something I think is really important to note is that during his days in the Senate, Sam Brownback was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act, which was foundational in creating the office of International Religious Freedom at the US State Department, which he will now lead in his new capacity as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom." Wright adds, “One of the things I’ve really loved seeing is a quote from Sam Brownback from years ago describing religious freedom as ‘the choice of what you do with your own soul.’ So this is someone who I think is going to be a champion, not only for persecuted Christians but for religious minorities, those of faith, and those of no faith at all. Because that’s what religious freedom is all about -- that ability to make that choice about what you believe.” In the last 10 years, the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom has been vacant more often than not. “I think that’s a really sad reality because...persecution [is] on the rise around the world. Open Doors, for instance, just released the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. This is a list that documents the 50 countries in the world where Christians face the most severe persecution because of their faith. And when I’m talking about p[...]

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Children from the red light district finding hope for the future

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 05:01:00 -0500

India (MNN) – Rapaka and Chidipi are two sisters in India growing up in a safe home with good meals and access to good education. But it didn’t always used to be this way. In fact, before someone intervened, the two sisters were living apart. Rapaka, the older sister, was one of the first girls to live in India Partners' safe home for girls. But Chidipi was too young to live in the home. Instead, she lived in the red light district with her mother. Donna Glass of India Partners shares her story: “[Chidipi] was witness to what was going on with her mother and would end up roaming the streets in search of food and became weak and lacked the proper nutrition that a young toddler needs. But her mother decided when she got old enough that [she would bring] her also to the home. And because the girls had moved into a new home that had more space, there was room to take her in.” We’re rounding out National Human Trafficking Awareness Month by focusing on a way that you can impact a life in India who might otherwise continue to be abused by human trafficking. Days of Safety is a program that allows mothers to send their children to a safe place to grow up. Each day of safety means proper nutrition, viable education, and an environment to reclaim their self-worth and heal from the wounds of the past. In other words, Days of Safety mean hope for children who’ve come from a very dark place. (Photo courtesy of India Partners) This project fits right into India Partners' vision: An India rich with hope, justice, and compassion. “Our focus is a lot on the children, both girls and boys who end up wandering the streets of the red light districts,” Glass explains, although they also connect women who want out of the red light district with the people who can help them. Often, even if the women don’t want to leave themselves, they want something better for their children. Days of Safety is an outstretched hand that gives them the choice to let their child grow up in a safe place. “The child is able to go to school [while] getting good nutrition, getting medical care… and once a mother brings a child out of the red light district into one of the homes that we work with, then they stay there unless the mother decides that they need to have their child back with them for whatever reason.” One of the biggest challenges to this, h[...]

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Asian Access partnering to bring hope through 2020 Olympics

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 05:00:47 -0500

Japan (MNN) -- Years before Japan agreed to host the Olympic Summer Games, Asian Access (A2) was praying and planning for Gospel transformation in 2020. Stepping stones for hope After the triple disaster in 2011, Japanese Christians were encouraged by the responses from around the world. Renewed hope seeped into their hearts for their country. Japanese pastors began sensing and sharing the call of God on their country in new ways. (Photo courtesy of Sergio Carbajo via Flickr) The mission field in Japan has been challenging for a long time. Hearts were hard toward the Gospel. But suddenly Christians began to sense God opening new doors for His Word. Joe Handley president of Asian Access says, “For years Japan has been known as a missionary’s graveyard. Missionaries would come and serve and get discouraged and go home. But now we’re seeing local leaders with incredible passion. The leader of Asian Access Japan is shooting to see the Church be at 2% of the population by 2023. That’s enormous because right now, it’s just under 1%. And then another one of our pastors within our network, Pastor Ikeda, has a vision for 10% just the year after! That’s amazing!” Using the Olympics to expand missions When the Olympic destination was announced, these ambitious visions began to grow. Once again people around the world would focus on Japan. A2 prays that this attention would bring interest not only from sports enthusiasts, but also for the Church.  They are ready to help the local Church turn Olympic attention into God-honoring evangelism. Leaders are praying audacious prayers. They are seeking a Church that is as widespread as convenience stores. Instead of staying at 8000-12000 churches, they want to bring that number up to 50,000 churches across the country, a similar number to the convenience stores dotting the country. But for that vision to be realized they need help. That is why these large events taking place in and around Japan are crucial. Asian Access is asking God to use these events to build passion in people so they come to the mission field short or long-term or begin praying big prayers for Japan. Partnering for greater effectiveness Asian Access is not the only group that sees the opportunities afforded with such a large event.  Japan International Sports Partnership is planning to utiliz[...]

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Sudanese refugees facing arrest in Egypt

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:02:15 -0500

Egypt (MNN) – Egypt has been a host country for Sudanese refugees for generations. The reason people have fled to Egypt has varied from war, internal conflict, and persecution. However, it seems that the social environment in Egypt is less and less welcoming, both to Sudanese nationals, and Christians. Today, people continue to be displaced by fighting between the Sudanese government and rebel movements in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. For Christians, the reason for fleeing Sudan is two-fold. Not only are they getting out of the way of conflict, they’re usually fleeing religious persecution, too. But now, it seems that their refuge presents dangers of its own. The following report comes from one of our partners who is elbow deep in helping exiled pastors in Egypt. Sharing this information is risky because of the security concerns in that part of the world. And yet, the story of Sudanese exiles needs to be told. Therefore, our partner is not named. The events reportedly happened at the end of December: I have several reports of over 300 Sudanese taken to the local police station on Thursday night. Last I heard no reason was given.  I've been told that in several cases the police broke down people's doors to get into their [apartments].  I have heard that of these, approximately 165 Sudanese were taken to the police station from 10th district in Nasr City, I believe the rest are from other areas of Nasr City in Cairo. Previously the police were rounding up Sudanese and checking on their visas and then would release them after a few days if everything was fine.  In this case we don't know the reason.  I have heard about 25 were released on Friday after their names were recorded. Of those taken to the police station many are refugees with UN ID cards. One of those in one of the police stations is a pastor who is a refugee with ID card and visa and a stamp that he is a pastor. Perhaps others have been released now but I have just heard that the problem is continuing with others being arrested. I just heard of a friend's nephew (age 13) who was taken to the police station. The boy's mother went to present the boy's ID and was taken to the station as well. When the uncle went, he was also taken in for 24h and beaten.  I have also heard that 165 minors, age 12 and under were taken to [...]

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Christians in China working out of faith

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:01:25 -0500

China (MNN) – There’s been a lot of noise lately about the rising persecution of Christians taking place in parts of China, including the destruction of multiple churches in the last several months. While the lives of Chinese believers may look grim in some places, Bibles for China’s James St. John says oppression is not the story for all Christians in the nation. Many are worshipping the name of Jesus freely. St. John says there are two defining factors for Christians who are persecuted and those who aren’t. These are based on location and if their church is underground or legally registered with the state. These factors have created a wide range of relationships between the underground Church, the state Church, and the government. “When it comes to China and dealing with religious issues, a lot of those are very local,” St. John says. “Changing of leadership on a local level, many times changes policies or changes the enforcement of policies. Some people are much more conservative – and when I say conservative, I mean they’re more hardline.” Laws are interpreted differently in China, depending on the area. For example, rural areas are a toss-up. Sometimes religious laws are strictly enforced, other times not so much. In provinces, counties, and villages that enforce laws more strictly, we have seen most of the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities arise. Persecution of the Underground Church in China Persecution of the underground Church is the most frequent oppression we see of believers in China. (Photo courtesy of NeONBRAND via Unsplash) We recently shared about the Golden Lampstand, an unregistered megachurch in Shanxi Province which was demolished by officials on January 9th. The Church had around 50,000 people in attendance and was started in 2009. There have been continuous assaults from officials and arrests of church leaders and founders. “This was an underground church that disguised this property initially as a warehouse,” St. John says. “With a congregation that large and being there without permission, or without the clearances that the local government required, I hate to say it’s kind of one of those it’s only a matter of time that something like this might happen... Obviously, I don’t want a[...]

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Despite persecution, Pakistan’s Church is growing and maturing

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:18 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – There are a few reasons why FMI’s upcoming conference in Pakistan is set to be its biggest yet. One of the reasons being that this year, Christians are matching donations to FMI to help pastors attend the conference. Unexpected Help Partners who match funds for ministries isn’t uncommon. Except in this case, the money isn’t coming from the most expected place. FMI’s Bruce Allen shares: “For one church planter to attend a conference might be about $100 per person. It’s now a gift of $50 to empower someone with a scholarship because the funds are going to be matched from inside Pakistan. That’s fantastic.” Pastors' seminar in Pakistan. (Photo and header photo courtesy FMI for MNN use) Christians in Pakistan see the importance of pastors and church planters attending this conference and they wanted to help. The fact that they’re matching financial gifts from inside the country signals to FMI its work with pastors is bearing fruit. FMI’s vision has been to not just provide supplemental support for ministry leaders, but to also help them and their congregations mature, provide pastors with the knowledge to lead their congregations to maturity, and to eventually come to a place where they do not depend on foreign funding. Growing Towards Maturity The conference gift matching isn’t a first for these Christians. Over the past few years, the Church in Pakistan has been continuously working towards this point. “There are times whether it’s dealing with the network of safe houses that we support or other situations where they’re saying, ‘We’re developing the funds for that from inside Pakistan,’” Allen shares. “And they’re doing a great job at maturing the entire ministry.” This maturity also includes evangelism and discipleship. FMI has been seeing Christians increasingly share their faith in the country. And the result has been incredible despite the extreme persecution* Christians in Pakistan face. Baptism in Pakistan. (Photo courtesy FMI for MNN use) “The Gospels tell us that the light has come into the world, the darkness cannot surround it, cannot comprehend it, cannot overcome it. And we’ve seen [that] Pakistan is a dark place spiritually,” Allen says. “And[...]

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Change for Pakistan’s blasphemy law faces challenges

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:02:12 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – This year marks Asia Bibi’s 9th year she’s spent imprisoned. Yet, the Pakistani government continues to delay carrying out her death sentence. In fact, it’s almost as though the same government that gave her this death sentence is protecting her. Asia Bibi Update “I have spoken with other people involved in Pastor Ahmed’s blasphemy trial and his defense attorney is intimately acquainted with the Asia Bibi case and what’s been happening with her lately,” FMI's Bruce Allen shares. “She has been transferred a number of times from prison to prison inside Pakistan. Usually, it’s been for her own protection because…people have wanted to storm the jails and essentially execute her for the government.” (Photo Courtesy FMI via Facebook) The judges in Asia Bibi’s case seem to know the accusations against her are baseless and that it’s a vendetta type of situation. Yet, these same judges won’t release her from prison. Allen says it’s their way of protecting her because if she were to be released, she’d more than likely be killed in the streets moments later. However, prison isn’t necessarily safe either. “The report I received this morning is that her physical condition is not good. She’s been vomiting blood lately and she is not receiving the medical attention that she needs. She’s also not being able to have visits from her own family,” Allen explains. Prison: Safe and Deadly Since Bibi continues to be shifted from one prison to another and the passion many people have to see her dead, Bibi’s family has had to go into hiding. If they were to try to visit her, they would no doubt be ambushed and attacked before they even reached the prison gates. This means Bibi has no contact with any person outside of the prison walls except for her lawyer. She doesn’t have other Christians to speak truth into her life and encourage her. She can’t even say the words “I love you” to her family. It’s also a concern that Bibi will be kept imprisoned until she passes away. However, the real worry comes in regard to her health. It wouldn’t be unheard of if the reasoning behind Bibi’s lack of medical attention is because the judges on her case are hoping [...]

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Responding to the global refugee crisis in 2018

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:01:34 -0500

International (MNN) -- Meeting the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide seem to be impossible. However, Tent Schools International’s Dale Dieleman is researching refugee trends to better strategize what can be done for these marginalized people “so we are not blindsided by developments and that we can help to prepare those that we serve.” In his research, Dieleman has noted three major developments that will likely shape the refugee and displaced persons’ crises in 2018: 1. Natural Disasters “One is that there’s going to be more disaster-related persons. In other words, as we have seen with the hurricanes last year and earthquakes in Mexico, etc., we can anticipate a lot more internally displaced [people],” Dieleman says. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports about 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes whether by war, political instability, or persecution. Yet according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) more people have been displaced by natural disasters than anything else between the years of 2008 and 2016 and it looks to be recurring. In 2016 alone, 24.2 million people were displaced by natural disasters. With the hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes that dominated 2017, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and been forced to move elsewhere. “There’s going to be a lot more of these events, catastrophic events in terms of natural disasters, and we have to be prepared as an organization how we are going to be able to meet the needs of persons who are suffering through these experiences, particularly because of the long-term recovery time that it would take to get back to some sense of normalcy.” 2. Reintegration (Photo courtesy Tent Schools International via Facebook) The second major development Dieleman has noted is the reintegration of refugees returning from their host countries to their home countries. European nations have already begun implementing plans to send rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries, including paying individuals and families to return. As refugees return, families will be put under further pressure as some conflicts have not been compl[...]

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Wycliffe Associates seeks resources and wisdom for new Bible translations

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:00:09 -0500

International (MNN) -- This year alone Wycliffe Associates has over 600 requests to begin Bible translation. That means people who speak more than 600 different languages are praying for the Word of God in their mother tongue. It is the largest number Wycliffe has ever tackled and the task seems almost overwhelming. For many years, Wycliffe Associate translators had to seek out people who would be willing to start a new translation. But now that problem is flipped on its head. Wycliffe Associates is beginning to seek new resources to keep up with the demand for Bible translation. Clearly God is opening doors, but why now? Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, poses two reasons for the new opportunities: a restructuring of the translation workshop methods and improved resources. Empowering the local church for Bible translation In 2014 Wycliffe Associates launched a collaborative translation workshop method called mobilized assistance supporting translation, or MAST. MAST allows local churches to be more heavily involved in translation than they have been in the past. Smith explains that MAST equips local churches with the training and resources they need to work in conjunction with translators. With the tools they need, local church leadership and people well-versed in a mother tongue can work accurately and efficiently. The MAST model passes decision-making power from foreign missionaries to put the stewardship of resources in locals’ hands. Smith says, “They can decide what the priority is for starting the translation, where they want to begin, how many people will be involved, how quickly it will continue, how it will be published, what form, all of those kinds of things. And it essentially puts all of those decisions into their hands for really the first time in a long time.” Using modern tools to translate enduring truth However, Wycliffe Associates is doing more than just coming alongside mother-tongue translators. They are providing local workers basic computer tablets through their Tablets for National Translators program. Using tablets for Bible translation keeps the work mobile, easy to access, and safe. Tablets save[...]

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Asia Bibi continues to wait in legal limbo

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:02:03 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – Almost nine years ago, a woman was arrested after drinking the same water as her co-workers while harvesting berries. Because she is a Christian, the Muslim women working with her became angry and an argument led to them accusing her of blasphemy. Today, Asia Bibi is the poster child of the abuses afforded by Pakistan's blasphemy laws. For obvious reasons, blasphemy charges are not cut and dry cases. How could something so objective be simple when multiple parties and belief backgrounds are involved? Furthermore, cases like Bibi’s are further complicated by a riotous public and an ever-watching international audience. Bibi’s case has received great international attention. And it’s probably because the world has tuned in that she is still alive today. Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010, shortly after her arrest. The sentencing for such a verdict is without exception death. However, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case. Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA explains further: “Sadly, nothing is happening; that’s really the problem. If you go way back to the middle of 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set aside the verdict, the verdict of guilty, the death penalty against Asia Bibi and they said, ‘Ok, we’re not going to let that verdict go forward until there’s been a review by the Supreme Court.’” Initially, this was great news. Some believed that review by one of the highest courts could mean justice for Bibi at last. But it soon became apparent that more than anything, the announcement was a stalling tactic. “More than a year after the Supreme Court said they would hear the case, they finally announced a date when they would have hearings. And the day of the hearing came, and ‘Oh! One of the judges can’t make it today. Sorry, we’re going to have to postpone. We’re going to have to delay.’” And as the hearing still has not happened, it seems to be the mode of operation of the Pakistani government not to make a move. They are stuck figuring out which direction has the least risk of uproar. As Nettleton explains, overturning the verdict could mean big pr[...]

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Japan, new wine, and a vision to share Christ

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:01:02 -0500

Japan (MNN) -- Of the 127 million people in Japan, only one percent of the population is Christian. The nation has been engaged with the voices of many believers for centuries, yet the Church has remained stagnant in its growth. These facts may sound pretty disheartening; however, Pastor Joshua Hari, Asian Access Japan’s national director, has hope. He has a goal to double the percentage of believers in the nation by the year 2023. How? By ‘pouring new wine into new wineskins’. (Photo courtesy Asian Access - Pastor Joshua Hari Center) Asian Access’ President Joe Handley recently shared in a blog post the challenge from Matthew 5:38: 'new wine must be poured into new wineskins.' The challenge pushes Asian Access to use the younger generation to start a revival in the Church in Japan. They want to equip and raise up the next generation of Christian leaders to help bring new growth to the Church. To do so, Asian Access is launching a pastor training course for evangelists under 30 years old this April. It’s through this course Asian Access hopes to begin planting new churches for the unreached and new believers. Hence the “new wine” (or in this case new Church), being poured into “new wineskins” (or the lives of new believers). Hari knows the younger generation is an integral part of the revival of the Church. He says the current average age of Japanese outreach pastors is 67-years-old, and the lack of younger leaders has suppressed the Church’s growth. “The study at the Church gets old,” Hari says. “Their crying needs are to start the new wineskin, which means that we need to start the new Church for the new people groups or [a] younger age.” Making a Lasting Impact To make a true, lasting impact, Asian Access has a vision for as many churches to be planted as there are 7/11 convenience stores, which is a lot. Right now there are about 8,000 Christian churches in Japan. One Asian Access pastor, Pastor Chida, even says, “We need 50,000 churches in Japan. We need as many churches as there are convenient stores in order to truly reach Japan with Christ.” While the gap [...]

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Mission India celebrates 40 years, prays for God to do “immeasurably more”

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:58 -0500

India (MNN) -- When John DeVries visited India in 1971, he was overwhelmed by the poverty and spiritual darkness. Like the prophet Jonah in the Old Testament, DeVries prayed, “God, I will serve you anywhere you want, just please don’t send me back here again.” But then he felt a heart-change that could only be from the Holy Spirit. In 1978, DeVries founded Mission India to begin helping local believers reach their communities with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now, Mission India is praising God for 40 years of Gospel outreach in India this year! (Photo courtesy of Mission India) Erik Morsehead with Mission India says since DeVries’ founded the ministry, their partnerships and programs grew. “We implemented the Adult Literacy Classes in 1984, then Church Planter Training in 1985, and then Children’s Bible Clubs we implemented in 1990. So over the course of these years from ‘78 until now, we’ve just seen so many people come to Christ through the partnerships we have in India and the three programs we have.” Mission India is looking forward to growing in partnership with the Church in India as a way to promote indigenous missions. “We’re definitely always looking for new ways to reach those in India. We are adding new elements to our programs often. So when we see needs and we think we can help solve those needs in communities, we add those elements.” Morsehead says he has been personally moved by how God is working through their programs to change lives in India for eternity. “My favorite aspect really is the holistic transformation that our programs provide communities -- not only our worshipping groups and churches planted and people coming to know Christ through the programs, but they’re...physically and emotionally being taken care of.” Ephesians 3:20-21 are key verses for Mission India, especially in 2018. It started with John DeVries’ emphases on this portion of Scripture for the ministry: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be gl[...]

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China planning to release new religious affairs regulations

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 05:00:45 -0500

China (MNN) -- Release International recently named China as a “key country of concern” in their 2018 Persecution Trends Report. The UK-based group monitors and supports persecuted Christians worldwide. According to Release International, the Chinese government is planning to unveil a new set of regulations on religious affairs next month. These new regulations may give the government more control over state churches and tighten the pressure on unregistered churches. China also recently grabbed international attention when the Golden Lampstand Church, an evangelical megachurch in the Shanxi Province, was demolished by military police. It was the latest in a string of oppressive movements by local governing officials to restrict and regulate spiritual life. David Curry, President of Open Doors USA, says, “These kinds of incidents where China demolishes a church or tears down crosses, these kinds of things have been going on for a few years now.” A demolition crew stands in front of the bombed and demolished Golden Lampstand Church.(Photo, caption courtesy of ChinaAid) In the Golden Lampstand Church’s case, and the case of many other unregistered churches, the Chinese government says they had to be torn down because of zoning laws. But, Curry points out, “There are some problems with that line of thinking because nobody has zoning in this part of the world. So they’re using that as an excuse…. It’s a reason to pare back the growth of the Church in China.” To be fair, China is a massive country holding one-fifth of the world’s population. So the oppression Christians in China face varies from region to region. Open Doors’ World Watch List ranks China at number 43 out of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is the worst. “I don’t think it’s necessarily an entirely centralized movement. That’s why it’s hard to pin this on the key government. This particular province has leadership that decided to tear [the Golden Lampstand Church] down. I would be surprised if this came from the central government in B[...]

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Pakistan-India relations tense after weekend of gunfire exchange

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 05:01:46 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – The 2003 cease-fire agreement between Pakistan and India may be in danger. Last week in the Kashmir region, there was an exchange of fire on both sides of the Pakistan-India border. Each country has accused the other of instigating the event, calling both retaliations an unprovoked firing. Rising Tensions The gunfire exchange continued into Saturday, making it the fourth day of fighting, and has resulted in both soldier and civilian deaths on both sides of the border. Villages in the area and border posts have been shelled in the fighting. Yet, this isn’t the first time an outbreak of violence has happened at the border. Mosque Lahore in Pakistan. (Photo Courtesy of FMI) The Kashmir region has been a disputed territory between the two countries since the British colonial rule ended in India. During August of 1947, British-ruled India was partitioned into two countries: present-day India and Pakistan. Now, both countries claim the Kashmir region as their own. The Washington Post reports the gunfire exchange began after Islamabad made the accusation that India had killed four Pakistani soldiers in the Kashmir region. Complicating the matter are the rebel groups, which India has accused Pakistan of arming and training, and Pakistan denies. However, the rebel groups demand the Kashmir region become one of two things: to be absorbed by Pakistan or become an independent country. Pakistan Conference The fighting in the Kashmir region prompts a question for FMI, though. Will the rising tensions negatively impact FMI’s upcoming conference in the region? Sharing more about the conference, FMI’s Bruce Allen: “The theme of the conference is very timely. The theme is ‘answering a world that opposes the Church.’ And there is such opposition in Pakistan from suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism. To the very threat of poverty and discrimination, things like that, that Christians must deal with that we’re excited about getting materials and ideas and looking at Scripture that will be very pert[...]

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Compassion International celebrates a year of lives changed

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 05:00:18 -0500

International (MNN) – If you could change the world, what would you like to see happen? The end of poverty? World peace? Equality? The answers come easily to that question, but not to this one: How? For Compassion International, these questions are considered with an eternal mindset. The ministry believes that change can happen through child sponsorship. Their particular focus is on ending poverty. Poverty is especially harsh on children as it makes them vulnerable to sickness and exploitation. Compassion’s child sponsorship program impacts the whole person—mind, body, and soul. But it isn’t just about meeting immediate needs. The ministry is sensitive to the fact that charity without sustainable strategies for the future can actually contribute to the harsh cycle of poverty. (Photo and header photo courtesy of Compassion International) And because everything they do is in Jesus’ name, they’re making a difference today, tomorrow, and for eternity. In fact, Compassion attacks poverty at two very biblical fronts: by living out the Great Commission (to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth) and obeying Great Commandment (to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul). This concept is further explained on their website: One addresses physical needs. The other addresses spiritual needs. The two go hand in hand. We must provide hope. We must help the poor see that they have great worth. That they have God-given potential. That God loves them so much that he sent His Son to die for them! We do all of these things WHILE we’re addressing the brutal physical struggles that accompany living in poverty. That’s why we don’t think there’s a difference between evangelism and anti-poverty work. In fact, evangelism is the only TRUE and LASTING anti-poverty work. And it’s the most powerful solution to ending extreme poverty around the world. As children receive adequate nutrition, education, medical care, and more, they are able to see a future ahead of them. As it happens, a child [...]

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Nepal: Christians petition government to remove anti-conversion law

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 05:02:11 -0500

Nepal (MNN) – In 2015, Nepal changed its constitution to become a secular nation with the freedom of religion. However, in October, Nepal’s President Bidhya Dev Bhandari signed a Criminal Code Bill into law. This law, known as the anti-conversion law, makes religious conversion illegal and punishable by five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 rupees. The law technically prohibits any person from sharing their faith or converting to a different faith. Furthermore, the freedom of religion in Nepal was already restricted by the 2015 constitution in Article 26 (3) where it states, “No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other's religion and such act shall be punishable by law.” Anti-Conversion Law It’s questionable if this law was influenced by Nepal’s relationship with India, a country where many of its states also have anti-conversion laws. With that said, when Nepal declared itself as a secular nation, India essentially blackmailed the nation by blocking supplies from entering. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia, Public Domain) Because Nepal is nestled among the Himalayas, India is the main route for supplies and trade. The country also receives all its oil, petroleum, and gasoline from a single supplier in India: the Indian Oil Corporation. For Nepal, staying on good terms with India is nearly a must for survival. However, despite Nepal’s relationship with India, this anti-conversion law became a campaign point when Nepal held elections in November for the first time in 20 years. Some candidates began promising Christians positive change to this anti-conversion law if the said candidate was elected. And not many Christians in the country wanted their vote to be baited by promises of change. Urging Change Instea[...]

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As world responds to alleged Trump remarks, ministry urges compassionate action in Haiti

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 05:01:37 -0500

Haiti (MNN) – Last week, President Trump reportedly made a comment using derogatory language in reference to countries in Africa along with Haiti and El Salvador. The report surfaced after a meeting about immigration that involved conversations on DACA and Temporary Protected Status. While the president denied via Twitter that he ever used those words, the alleged comment understandingly wrought anger not only from the United States, but from nations around the world. But with several decades of experience working with the Haitian people, Eva DeHart of For Haiti with Love has a response that is both honest and perhaps surprising: “Basically it kind of boils down to: people are up in arms about it in [the United States], and people in Haiti don’t see that much wrong with the comment because they can look around. They need help. They acknowledge that they need help. They have needed help since the earthquake and before, and obviously didn’t get it.” For Haiti with Love has been operating in Haiti since the 60’s. They’re very familiar with the ongoing needs and systematic challenges that face Haiti and how disasters like the earthquake further impact those challenges. But DeHart says their focus is never about getting people out of Haiti to escape these challenges. Rather, they’re geared towards long-term solutions and transformation. They’re committed to helping the Haitian people regain a viable homeland. (Photo courtesy of For Haiti with Love). “Our whole purpose has always been to make life better where they are living. Not bringing them here for a better life—not encouraging them to come here for a better life.” So when she hears comments like President Trump’s, she hopes it will draw more people into the solution. “Things are bad, and they know they’re bad. I find it a little ironic that he used the phrasing he did since one of our newest projects has been to start building community latrines… The [...]

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National Sanctity of Human Life Day spotlights abortion 45 years since US legalization

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 05:00:22 -0500

USA (MNN) -- For every one child adopted in the United States, there are approximately 36 couples waiting to adopt. But only four percent of women with unplanned pregnancies choose adoption over abortion. National Sanctity of Human Life Day is this Sunday, January 21st. It reminds us of the tragedy of abortion, which has now been legalized for 45 years since 1973. However, Tom Lothamer with Life Matters Worldwide says pro-life awareness is making a difference. “It’s interesting. Since the 60s where there was over 2,000-3,000 abortion clinics and only 500-700 pro-life clinics, now it’s reversed. There is probably 600 abortion clinics in the country and 2,500-3,000 pro-life pregnancy centers. So the difference in this country has been aided by the pro-life community.” (Photo courtesy of Life Matters Worldwide) Life Matters’ goals are to educate people on pro-life issues, mobilize the Church for pro-life outreach, and partner with other pro-life organizations nationally and internationally for life and soul-saving ministry. “We write...inserts for bulletins in churches, we speak in churches, we write in our blogs, [and] we have a wonderful website where people can get so much information not only on the beginning of life on the issue of abortion, but on the end of life.” The circle of partners with Life Matters include Right to Life, Heartbeat International, Care Net, Bethany Christian Services, and Focus on the Family. Lothamer says pro-life partnerships are critical to increase awareness among couples with unplanned pregnancies that abortion doesn’t have to be the answer. “It’s us standing together saying, ‘You know what? We’re not only going to be against abortion. We’re going to provide opportunities for women and men, different options other than abortion. And for those who have had abortions, we’re going to provide counseling and reconciliation, forgiveness, all of those things. [...]

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Evangelical megachurch in China blown up by military police

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 05:00:33 -0500

China (MNN) -- One of the largest evangelical churches in China was completely demolished in a shocking government campaign on January 9th. Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province has been around for nearly a decade with 50,000 congregants. But it wasn’t registered with the Chinese government. “It’s an unregistered church, but it was completely paid for by many of the Christians there,” reports Anthony Rhodes with Voice of the Martyrs Canada. “The church has a history of being persecuted by government officials and state police in that area…. Previously, there were harassments and some of their leaders were arrested and interrogated.” Then, last Tuesday, officers of the People’s Armed Police went to the Golden Lampstand Church and announced because it was an unregistered church building, it would be demolished. “They actually cleared the church of the congregants and put dynamite in the church and blew the church up. They actually blew up the building and completely destroyed the church. There’s video footage of this happening, and then you see many of the workers cleaning up the rubble and bulldozing what was left of this church.” Communist Control Although the Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, says the church’s destruction was part of “a city-wide campaign to remove illegal buildings”, Communist China regularly seeks to restrict and regulate spiritual life in the country. The Communist Party views Christianity as a Western religion and, ultimately, a threat to its authority. A demolition crew stands in front of the bombed and demolished Golden Lampstand Church.(Photo, caption courtesy of ChinaAid) Rhodes says, “It’s very disturbing. We’ve seen in China before churches bulldozed and torn down or maybe they’re taking down church steeples or some of the crosses that are in the building. But such a demolition of a church building of that size,[...]

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Mission Cry reaches goal of a Bible for every home in Belize

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 05:00:50 -0500

Belize (MNN) -- In 2017, Mission Cry had an audacious goal: that every home in the entire country of Belize should have access to one Bible or Christian book. As the year drew to a close, God allowed them to finish that task. Completing the task In November a group went to Belize to distribute Bibles and Christian books; these were some of the final resources needed to meet their goal. They had planned to go minister in a school to give away Bibles and Christian books. However, when the team got to the school that morning they discovered that their event had been canceled. (Courtesy of Mission Cry) Rather than becoming frustrated, one of the Belizean believers suggested they stop by another school. Maybe they could distribute the resources there. So they drove another hour away to a different school and asked if they could hold an impromptu event. The school welcomed them in! Unbeknownst to them, God was answering a fellow believer’s prayer by bringing them there. Jason Woolford, Executive Director of Mission Cry, explains a little more about the story. “That morning the dean of their school had been praying. [He] was praying for God to send Bibles that day because the kids were asking for them from the previous day. And so he was praying, God ordered our footsteps, as He says in His Word, ‘the footsteps of the righteous are ordered,’ and of course those of you that are listening know we’re only righteous by the blood of Christ. But God ordered our footsteps, brought us there.” Expectant prayers God acted to bring Mission Cry to a place where people were hungry for the Word of God. Suddenly, children who had been asking for Bibles just the day before, had their own copies in hand. And He did it through the prayers of a man who fervently believed God’s Word to be true. Woolford shares, “Not only did God do that, but just as He says in His Wor[...]

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“Still Evangelical?”: new book wrestles with tensions about the evangelical label

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 05:00:48 -0500

USA (MNN) – InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's President Tom Lin recently contributed a chapter to an upcoming book, "Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning."  The book is set to be released next Tuesday, January 23. Embrace or Reject? Sharing more about the book Lin says, “Many evangelical leaders and churches have been discussing and asking the question, ‘What do we make of evangelicalism today? Where are we at? What is the effect of evangelicalism on our society, positive and negative?’ (Photo courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship via InterVarsity Press website) “And, particularly after the recent presidential elections, that discourse certainly got elevated. As [a] significant percentage of evangelicals voted in one direction, many started asking the questions, ‘What is evangelicalism even about? What do we stand for as evangelicals?’” Conversations have even turned to the question of whether American Christians should even use the term 'evangelical.' After all, in the United States the term seems attached to political views and ideologies even if they don’t match each individual Christian's. Here’s the catch: evangelical isn’t used to describe only American Christians, but also the global Church. Defining Evangelical “It’s a globally used term, but when we talk about I think in our American context, there are different feelings about it and perhaps different definitions,” Lin explains. “When I talk about it and when many of my peers talk about it, I think what we’re referring to is a definition that British historian David Bebbington talks about. In evangelism, it has four different emphases and that’s what people are usually referring to.” Lin describes these emphases as: Biblicism: Believing in Scripture’s power and authority. Cr[...]

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Christian persecution on the rise reveals 2018 World Watch List

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 05:02:20 -0500

International (MNN) – There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide, according to the 2018 “World Watch List.” This is Open Doors USA’s annual ranking of the 50 worst countries for violence and persecution against Christians. Analyzing the List Analyzing the list, FMI’s Bruce Allen shares, “Last year there were seven countries with scores of 55 or lower. This year, no score was below 55. The lowest score was 56. We can see from year to year that when we look at the scores, things are progressively getting worse for our brothers and sisters around the world.” Allen also compared the 2018 World Watch List scores and rankings to previous years. It’s important to note these two things are different. Rankings compare a country’s persecution level to another country. However, a score gives the level of persecution for the country. FMI Partner Countries For example, FMI works in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Bangladesh’s score changed from 63/100 in 2017 to 58/100 in 2018. It’s ranking also dropped from 26 in 2017 to 41 in 2018. A rural church in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of FMI) “So, there was just a change of a few points and yet it looks like it was just about to leave the list,” Allen shares. “But that’s truly not the case…a lower ranking than the previous year may simply mean that conditions in other countries have actually gotten worse as well. So, we can see that the conditions may remain the same, but the rankings have changed a bit.” As for Indonesia, both the ranking and score reflected Christian persecution to be on the rise in the country. In 2017 Indonesia was ranked at 46 with a score of 55/100. The 2018 list ranks the country at 38 with a score of 59/100. Pakistan, on the other hand, has shown a slight improvement. It was bumped down i[...]

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To the ends of the earth

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 05:02:03 -0500

International (MNN) -- Moments before his ascension, Jesus gave one last command to the disciples gathered around him. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Photo courtesy of World Mission) To this day, believers are continuing to follow Jesus’s command, but according to Greg Kelly, CEO of World Mission, it’s the “ends of the earth” bit that is still so troublesome. Troublesome, but not impossible. “There are thousands of these people groups that have never heard, and if every Christian could just acknowledge one of them, then it’s my firm conviction that within our lifetime we’ll see the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” Kelley said. Those people groups aren’t just individuals who haven’t become believers; they are entire tribes and nations that have never even been given the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus Christ. How do we achieve such an intimidating goal? Kelley says it starts with keeping believers informed. That’s why World Mission has partnered with International Day for the Unreached to bring believers together to reach those who have never heard. “We all have giftings. The Lord has given every single Christian a gift, and prayer is one we all can participate in,” he said. He suggests believers start by asking God where He wants them and what He wants them to do, then listening for the answers God provides. (Photo courtesy of World Mission) Ready to get involved? Kelley says there are plenty of ministries that can get you started. “We want to encourage believers to find their place when it comes to reaching the ends of the earth, whether it’s with World Mission or an IDU member, somebody who is a wonderful organization working among the unreached.” World [...]

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SignAll removes communication barriers

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 05:00:50 -0500

USA (MNN) -- Convertible laptops and “smart home” devices topped Forbes’ recent 2018 tech trends list.  Robots, health sensors, and smart cars followed close behind.  Last week’s CES conference in Las Vegas highlighted examples from each category, along with a device called “SignAll.” Non-manual markers, such as facial expressions, play a significant role in American Sign Language.(Photo courtesy of SignAll) “[Technologies like SignAll] have the opportunity to increase communication and allow Deaf people to not feel like they’re second-class citizens,” says Rob Myers, President and CEO of DOOR International. “Whether they’re going to McDonald’s or filling up gas -- or many times in church setting -- they’re constantly around hearing people, and they’re constantly dealing with people who don’t know how to communicate with them.” Approximately 1 million Deaf people live in the United States, yet there are only 15,000 certified sign language interpreters.  This equates to roughly one interpreter per 66 Deaf. As explained here, SignAll hopes to bridge the communications gap between deaf and hearing with its automated interpreter. Similar tech developments are underway in sign language Bible translation. "We have an awesome partner in the missions world, Deaf Bible Society, that’s been working on technological advances to see translation opportunities advance and accelerate," shares Myers. "Deaf people in almost any walk of life are hungry for the Gospel, and they’re hungry for God’s Word in their heart language.  The more that we can give them access to the true word of life, the more that the Deaf Christian community can grow and multiply and spread like wildfire." DOOR’s Deaf leaders experienced this in Ghana[...]

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Ceasefire extended in Sudan; Christian persecution continues

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 05:02:33 -0500

Sudan (MNN) – Last October, the United States lifted sanctions on Sudan with the expectation that there would be more efforts in counterterrorism and against internal conflict. More recently, the Sudanese government opted to extend a unilateral ceasefire against rebels that was supposed to end in December. Until the ceasefire, fighting between the government and rebels had been ongoing in the Kordofan and Blue Nile regions since 2011 and Darfur since 2003. Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says, “The conflict in Sudan dates back years and in some cases even decades. But there has been a ceasefire in place and the president of Sudan has just announced that he will extend that ceasefire. It had been scheduled to end at the end of December, now it has been extended to the end of March. “I think this is a direct effort by the Sudanese government to keep the peace process moving forward.” In other words, it looks like Sudan is working hard to appease the international eye. Nettleton says he believes it’s “an effort to make sure that the US government perceives that things are going well in Sudan so they’re not tempted to put those sanctions back in place.” And while this is a positive development for Sudan, there is still the question of human rights violations. Persecution continues Sudan moved up to number four on the World Watch List (WWL) this year. Each year, Open Doors ranks nations according to the level of persecution Christians face. According to the WWL, the source of persecution against Christians in Sudan comes from Islamic oppression—the government is trying to establish a one-religion nation. “Even though Christians in the Nuba mountains may be in a better situation now because thi[...]

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Lebanese Church partnering to reach refugees

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 05:00:02 -0500

Lebanon (MNN) – In communities around the world, the local Church is on the move. God is working through His people to spread the truth of the Gospel and His Church is growing. Lebanon is no exception. Many Western Christians don’t realize the presence of the Church in Lebanon. There are over a hundred evangelical churches in the country with at least 10,000-20,000 believers across the nation. Pierre Houssney, MENA regional director for Horizons International, estimates that there are even more Christians than that because many have not changed their identity cards. Challenging the Church to move While the evangelical Church in Lebanon is growing, it remains a tight-knit community. And many local churches are still learning what it looks like to reach out to different communities. (Photo courtesy of Eusebius@Commons via Flickr: Horizons International is working to mobilize Lebanese Christians to go beyond the local Church and reach out to neighbors; especially those that are coming in from war-torn Syria. Houssney explains, “We as Horizons International have partnered with many churches that previously had no interaction with Syrian refugees, no vision to reach them. But we’ve been able to sow that vision for this opportunity that God has given us with the Syrian presence. "And they are now seeing Syrian refugees flood into their congregations. We’re helping them to witness to them, to give them resources, humanitarian aid, and also disciple them. And the churches are baptizing them and adding to their number everyday believers from Syrian backgrounds.” However, there are still very few Christians ministering to the Muslim population. The mission field is mas[...]

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Ambition Conference prompts students and staff to action

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 05:00:40 -0500

USA (MNN) – Over the weekend InterVarsity Christian Fellowship held its 3rd Ambition conference in Anaheim, California. InterVarsity had 700 students and 300 staff who attended the conference, which lasted from January 11-13. The conference was meant to empower these students and staff in reaching every corner of every college campus in the United States with the Gospel. Campuses Confess and Serve InterVarsity began the Ambition conference recognizing the need to first have an encounter with God before pursuing any form of ministry. This encounter can be preparing oneself for God’s work through confession, repentance, and simply dealing with life stuff which can sometimes be left buried in a closet rather than regularly addressed. (Photo courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship via Facebook) This very topic was the first thing to be discussed at the conference. In fact, early on a speaker told attendees that before they can do God’s work, they have to deal with what God is working on inside of them. The speaker then encouraged everyone to turn to their neighbor and in small groups, through prayer, urged them to confess to one another what God had laid on their hearts. “The speaker said, ‘God is calling us to do ministry, to go places, at times doesn’t just mean doing ministry work and seeing fruit and growth. It also can mean suffering.’ And so, [it] just kind of prepar[ed] us for saying yes to God for the rest of this weekend, what that looks like, and getting ourselves ready for that,” InterVarsity’s Bethany Hovarth shares. Ambition featured afternoon programs where students learned how to be planters and reach new campuses and even new areas on campu[...]

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Coptic Christians in Egypt suffering “unprecedented levels of persecution”

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 05:00:16 -0500

Egypt (MNN) -- We have known that Christian persecution in Egypt is getting worse. But Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List confirmed this when it was released last week. The World Watch List reveals the top 50 countries with the worst Christian persecution, and Egypt ranked 17th this year -- up from its position as 21st in 2017. The 2018 World Watch List naming the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. (Image and header photo courtesy of Open Doors) Egypt is home to approximately half of all believers in the Middle East. Over the last year, 128 Coptic Christians were killed for their faith and 200 were forced to flee their homes. What they’re experiencing in Egypt are ‘unprecedented levels of persecution and suppression’ according to Open Doors. This uptick in attacks and murders led a Cairo priest to call it “the most aggressive campaign against them in the history of modern Egypt”. The Islamic State has even announced they intend to “wipe out” Egypt’s Copts and “liberate Cairo”. We spoke with *Sarah, an Egyptian ministry correspondent. She says, as a Christian who grew up in Egypt, the recent uptick in attacks is evident to her. “The attacks increased and the last attack, if you were following, was the Helwan attack. They attacked a church in Helwan in greater Cairo just before our Christmas, just by the end of 2017. That was another church and another hurt in our hearts.” The issue of persecution is especially pronounced for women in Egypt. Their lack of a hijab makes Coptic Christian women stand out even more than their male counterparts. “Do you know that most of the women [in Egypt] hav[...]

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Brunson marks second Christmas in Prison

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 05:01:29 -0500

Turkey (MNN) – Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who had been living and serving in Turkey, recently spent his second Christmas and birthday imprisoned in the country. Brunson was imprisoned October 7, 2016. Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton shares: “He went into prison as a 48-year-old, he is now a 50-year-old. My heart goes out to him with the frustration of him being locked up. He hasn’t had a trial yet. His lawyer hasn’t even been allowed to see all the so-called evidence against him yet.” Brunson's Backstory These things, Nettleton says, make it hard to know what will move Brunson’s case forward. Furthermore, Nettleton also notes concerns that the Turkish government is holding Brunson as a bargaining tool for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Andrew and Norine Brunson (Photo courtesy of World Watch Monitor) Gülen is an Islamic cleric currently residing in Pennsylvania in the United States. He’s been accused by Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of being responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Turkey has been pressing the U.S. to extradite Gülen back to his home country to face trial and charges there. “They have openly talked about, ‘Hey, we have Andrew Brunson—an American. You have Fethullah Gülen. What if we worked out a trade?’” Nettleton explains. The U.S. government has refused to comply. And the effects of imprisonment are beginning to take its toll on Brunson and his family. “His wife is separated from him, outside the prison, working for his release," Nettleton shares. "His children have had life events, have had a wedding and have had a graduation[...]

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Keys for Kids expands content into Spanish

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 05:00:56 -0500

International (MNN) – “Jesús te ama.” That’s Spanish for “Jesus Loves you.” And it’s this message that Keys for Kids Ministries is hoping to spread among Spanish-speaking populations as their ministry branches into new languages. Just recently, they started offering their content on a Spanish website called Llaves Del Cielo (Keys of Heaven). Greg Yoder, Executive Director at Keys for Kids says, “It’s a brand-new website that we’re just now launching… Basically right now, we’re just trying to see what kind of demand there is for children’s devotionals in the Spanish language.” Getting the devotionals translated into Spanish and published online is just the first phase: “The test is to see if the text is something that the young people are going to want, and parents as well. The next phase of this will be, obviously, putting it in an audio form on a daily basis just like we do in English.” (Image courtesy of Keys for Kids Ministries) And if there’s enough demand for Spanish content, they’ll be well on their way to offering their Creature Feature Storytellers in Spanish as well. Through a partnership with Trans World Radio, Keys for Kids has already been able to translate some of their content for the Storytellers, and they hope to release those soon. The Creature Feature Storytellers are stuffed animals equipped with an audio Bible that also has Keys for Kids Devotionals included. Yoder explains that offering their content in Spanish both in writing, audio, and through the Storytellers is the first test to see the viability of producing their content in[...]

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Iranian government blocks media apps, cuts SAT-7 off from communication with viewers

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:02:43 -0500

Iran (MNN) – Protests which began on December 28 have since subsided in Iran. These protests, the largest the country has experienced in decades, began as a shout against economic struggles and a call for the government to care more about the people inside the country than out of it. Iran's Call for Help The protests popped up across Iran in 80 cities. The results? More than 1,000 people have been arrested and 22 people are dead. NBC News reports that the leaders of the protests who are in custody could face reprimands as extreme as capital punishment. But, it seems the time for reining in unrest through forceful means may have ended. The social climate surrounding the protests has been building for a while and doesn’t seem like it’s about to go away. SAT-7’s Vice President for ministry Partnerships Dennis Wiens shares, “There’s been years of frustration. There’s been poor economic opportunity. People are growing more and more frustrated. "And, you know, regardless of where you are around the world-- you want meaning, you want purpose, you want significance in life. And I think we’re seeing a symptom today of a lack of that opportunity. And people search for hope and when you live in a hopeless situation economically and stuff, you become frustrated.” Caught in the Middle Despite being non-political, SAT-7—a satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa—has been caught in the crosshairs of the recent Iranian protests. In trying to contain the protests, the Iranian government also blocked multiple ways that SAT-7 PARS communicate[...]

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TPS ending for Salvadorans; families at risk

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:02:39 -0500

United States (MNN) – With all of the disasters and tragedies we hear about today, it’s no wonder why compassion fatigue happens. Nobody can possibly devote all their time and resources to all of the difficult, ongoing situations-- especially when it’s half a world away. But what about when the people impacted by a bad situation are living next door to us? The question of compassion fatigue is in the mix of arguments surrounding a hot topic taking place in the United States. Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will end the Temporary Protected Status of over 200,000 Salvadorans. As a ministry, Bethany Christian Services has been watching the situation carefully. One of the biggest concerns in this development involves what’s at the very heart of what Bethany does: keeping families together. (Photo courtesy of CT Senate Democrats via Flickr: Dona Abbott explains, “Temporary Protected Status is a legal immigration status for people who are in the United States when something happens in their country of origin. Could be a natural disaster, can be civil war, war—some reason that it would be unsafe for them to return.” She continues, “All people have to be in the [United States] at the time the disaster happens and they’re here legally, usually tending school, work visa, or a visitor visa.” This is different from a refugees status; refugees are in their home country when disaster strikes. When they are granted asylum in the United States, there are opportunities [...]

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In light of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, ministry enacting holistic change

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:00:44 -0500

International (MNN) -- January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. There are an estimated 24.9 million victims trapped in modern-day slavery, either through forced labor or the sex trade. That’s equivalent to just over two-thirds of the entire population of Canada. Human trafficking plagues every country. In the US, human trafficking is in every state. Human trafficking touches every demographic. Food for the Hungry’s ministry specifically works in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the Philippines where they see rampant human trafficking activity. (Photo courtesy of Food for the Hungry) Gary Edmonds, President and CEO of Food for the Hungry, explains, “The kind of context where we see it most often happening is where there is real extreme poverty. This may surprise us in the United States, but when you get families that are at the edge of starvation, they’re simply just trying to survive.” Edmonds witnessed the blight of human trafficking and the impoverished scenarios that fuel it while he was in India. “I saw a father say, ‘I’m going to place my 12-year-old daughter up for sale.’ She was going to be used in the sex trade at that point. And for him, it was simply a matter of survival. He knew of no other way. “For 500 years, the culture of this community had said this is legitimate…to take our first female child of our family and between 12 and 13-years of age sell that girl into another profession that will allow us as a family to garner the income from the sale of this child. I say [...]

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2018 Open Doors World Watch List reveals disturbing trends

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 05:02:43 -0500

International (MNN) – We know that Christian persecution is a big problem around the globe. But just how big of a problem is it? Every year, Open Doors develops a list that helps us understand the status of Christian persecution. The World Watch List ranks nations according to the level of persecution its Christians face.  Ministries and individuals alike use this list not just to know, but to act. The 2018 Open Doors World Watch List was released yesterday. The report estimates that one out of every 12 Christians (about 215 million people) lives under extreme persecution. Out of the 50 countries included on the list, 30 saw an increase in persecution over the last year. The top ten nations in order of highest persecution are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. Notable changes from last year For the most part, the top ten is as expected. One major change is that Syria dropped from sixth to fifteenth on the list. David Curry of Open Doors USA says this is due to the number of Christians who fled Syria since last year. Another factor is that ISIS is almost completely eradicated from Syria. (Photo and header graphic courtesy of Open Doors USA) Perhaps the biggest surprise in the top ten is the fact that Afghanistan nearly displaced North Korea, which has headed the list for the last 16 years. The nations were only separated by one point. Regardless, North Korea continues to be the worst place to live as a Christian, and it sets its[...]

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Ministry seeking to break prison cycle for Sierra Leone street orphans

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 05:00:07 -0500

Sierra Leone (MNN) -- Sierra Leone has been plagued by AIDS, Ebola, a civil war, and last year, massive mudslides and flooding. These disasters left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. Many of them ended up on the streets. Flooding in Sierra Leone. (Photo courtesy of Crossroads Prison Ministries) When your life at a young age is about survival on your own, it’s no surprise that many of these orphaned street kids land in juvenile prisons for petty crimes. Crossroads Prison Ministries works with orphans in Sierra Leone’s juvenile prisons. The kids go through the ministry’s Bible study program with a mentor where they can ask questions about God, Scripture, and even begin to follow Jesus. Crossroads’ Sierra Leone Director, Lahai Kargbo, personally mentors several kids in the juvenile prisons and shows them the care and love of Christ they so desperately need. But Cynthia Williams, International Director of Crossroads, says a major challenge comes when juvenile orphans are released. “These children literally have nowhere to go -- no family, no home, absolutely nothing. So when they’re released, they will most certainly end up back in the streets again. And these vulnerable kids get caught up in the cycle of survival and then the return to prison and then long-term that really leads to a life of ongoing crime.” Williams traveled to Sierra Leone in October and visited the juvenile facilities where Kargbo is ministering through Crossroads. [...]

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Pakistani blasphemy case takes twist: has an under the table verdict been made?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 05:00:20 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – New developments have occurred in Ahmed’s blasphemy case, a strategically placed co-laborer for the Gospel in Pakistan. Now that his case is being heard by a new judge with a bad reputation, there are concerns regarding his next trial. New Judge, New Court “Friday is the first day of the new trial under this second judge. The defense attorney is very cautious. He’s been watching [the] body language of the accusers, of the prosecution,” FMI’s Bruce Allen shares. “And, one of the things that have disturbed him in the reports that I just received was that there’s been a marked contrast in the body language, in the speech of the prosecution.” (Photo Courtesy FMI via Facebook) The change in judge came after weeks of protests in Pakistan where demonstrators accused government officials of blasphemy for making a slight word change to the oath every official takes when entering an office. Between Pakistan’s society being on a knife’s edge right now and the death threats the previous judge had received from the accusers, he decided to hand the case over to a new judge. However, during the first trial under the previous judge, the prosecution was what Allen describes as belligerent, riotous, and wanted to ambush and physically harm Ahmed at the trial. Now under this new judge, Allen reports these same men are smug, confident, and very self-assured. Changes in Blasphemy Trial Ahmed’s lawyer is concerned th[...]

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Pakistan ranks high on 2018 watch lists for religious persecution

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:02:49 -0500

Pakistan (MNN) – Pakistan has landed itself on two lists for severe religious freedom violations. The first? The U.S. State Department’s special watch list. Special Watch List Being placed on the special watch list comes across as a little less severe than being re-designated on the “countries of particular concern” list or the CPC. The CPC lists countries that the U.S. State Department carefully watches for abuses of religious liberties and freedoms. Mosque Lahore in Pakistan. (Photo Courtesy of FMI) Policies and recommendations can be made by the U.S. State Department to help curb these abuses by threatening financial aid and more. However, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has been pushing for Pakistan to be added to the CPC list for years. FMI’s Bruce Allen explains one reason why: “The blasphemy laws are another major sticking point. They are abused frequently in Pakistan and they target Christians disproportionately. The way that textbooks used in education malign Christians, and therefore reinforcing stereotypes in the majority population against Christians, is another factor that the State Department is looking at in these things.” Allen believes one reason for Pakistan not being added to the CPC list includes the fact Pakistan has been a U. S. ally against the war on terrorism. Still, in previous months POTUS Donald Trump has threated to cut aid t[...]

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Tackling injustice with transformational education

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:00:30 -0500

International (MNN) – Transformational education is not an everyday concept, but TeachBeyond is trying to change that. Around the world, the fallout from systemic abuse is causing people to ask questions and listen in new ways. Movements like #MeToo are bringing big issues that have been hiding to light. For many the depth of this sin is overwhelming. But TeachBeyond hopes to use the power of education and God’s Word to change lives, even in the midst of messes like sexual abuse in the workplace. A global problem Recently there have been many people pointing the US and the world to injustices against women. And George Durance, President of TeachBeyond, believes that this is right. There are major issues with how American culture treats women. However, he also notes that in the US, on the surface, women are treated better than in almost any place at any time. He points out that while that sounds good, there is still massive mistreatment and abuse. Clearly there is more than just a cultural problem at play. Durance explains, “And so we don’t like to talk about the global issue, but I think it’s actually helpful to say not only is this an American problem, this is a global problem. Because then we can get to what the real issue is, which is that it’s not just about culture. Yes, we have a cultural problem in America, but it’s a deeper thing than that because it crosses cultur[...]

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Esther Initiative trains 6,000 women in 2017 to be spiritual influencers

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:00:21 -0500

International (MNN) -- Global Advance is known for training church planters and marketplace leaders to advance the Gospel. But one of their other ministries, Esther Initiative, focuses on equipping a particular group within the Church: women. Esther Initiative was inspired by Esther 4:14 and its purpose is “elevating women to the areas of leadership for which they are gifted and created”. Whitney Daugherty, Esther Initiative Coordinator, explains, “The Esther Initiative recognizes that God has raised up women all around the world for his Kingdom purposes.” Within this initiative’s training process, there are three different aspects through which they empower Christian women as spiritual influencers: conferences, mentoring, and mobilization. Esther Initiative: Conferences (Photo courtesy of Esther Initiative with Global Advance) The conferences are where much of Esther Initiative has women start. Daugherty shares, “At national conferences, we gather women together -- women leaders, oftentimes pastors’ wives, women’s ministry leaders -- to be inspired, equipped, [and] activated in their leadership roles so they can, in turn, multiply that training and raise up other modern day ‘Esthers’ to advance the Gospel in their nation and beyond.” The women gathered often come from leadership roles in the Church, in the marketplace, and even [...]

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