Compassion International celebrates a year of lives changed

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 sponsored through Compassion is more likely to stay in school longer, secure reliable employment, and go on to be a leader in their community or church.

(Photo courtesy of Compassion Internationals)

Compassion’s annual report reveals that last year, 1.8 million children received valuable care through the sponsorship program. In addition, over 8,300 babies and moms received life-saving care that propelled them into a hopeful future.

Compassion also saw 45,000 young adults enrolled in higher education or vocational training. All of this was made possible through partnerships with over 6,700 churches and many more child sponsors.

The organization is also committed to financial transparency. Last year, 80.7 percent of donor dollars went directly towards helping release children from poverty. They are recognized on the Forbes’ 50 Largest U.S. Charities List, the Philanthropy 400 List, and The NonProfit Times Top 100 List. You can read more about Compassion in 2017 here. 

As we walk through this next year, consider how your life could make the difference in a child’s life through sponsorship. It takes $38 a month to change the course of a child’s life for the better, but the potential impact is priceless. Get started, here.

Finally, ask God to guide Compassion in their ministries around the world. Pray for their continued operation, even in the darkest parts of the world most inflicted with poverty. Ask God to bless the hearts of children in their programs, and to call more people from the Body of Christ into supporting those most in need.

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China planning to release new religious affairs regulations

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 Beijing. So some areas have it more than others depending on the leadership in that region.”

Curry says a lot of the paranoia when it comes to religion in China can be boiled down to one thing: nationalism.

“The Chinese government in my opinion, and I think the data proves this, wants to make the movement of Jesus a national movement not unlike what you’ve seen in the Russian Orthodox Church becoming tied to the government of Russia.”

Christianity is viewed by the Chinese government as a Western religion. And in a country steeped heavily in Communist principles, any Western influence is considered a threat. So while China’s constitution allows for freedom of religion, in practice, permissible religion is regulated.

“I’ve heard the president of China say, in regards to the Catholic Church, ‘We would welcome more Catholics if only you would be more Chinese.’ That’s the message. So they’re not hiding the fact they want to bring the Chinese government’s agenda into the Christian movement.”

(Photo courtesy of Bibles for China)

Believers around the world can pray that Christ alone will be head of the Chinese Church — and of our own churches.

“The ideal thing would be for us…to maintain the Christian movement in China as a spiritual movement. This is true not just of China. It’s true of Russia, it’s true of the United States, any place. This is not a political movement. It’s a movement to understand the words and the message of Jesus to live that in our daily lives.

“So we have to resist any sort of nationalization — whether it’s in Myanmar or China or anywhere else — of the Christian movement. It’s not God and country. It’s God. And that will make us good citizens of whatever country we come from. We’re first citizens of Heaven and I think that’s terribly important to understand.”

 

(Header photo courtesy of Open Doors)

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Pakistan-India relations tense after weekend of gunfire exchange

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.

terror

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 pertinent.”

The conference is set to take place in March. It will be the biggest, both in terms of attendance and length, which FMI has held in Pakistan. The conference, which usually runs for three days, will run for five days in order to include all the necessary information FMI wants to share and teach. The FMI-held conference functions as a supplemental education for the Pakistani pastors and church planters who hold degrees from seminaries and Bible institutes in the country.

Teaching, Preparing, Serving

During the conference, Allen shares that three tracks will be explored to align with this year’s theme:

(Photo Courtesy FMI for MNN use.) Pastors’ seminar in Pakistan.

Track One: Apologetics—meant to help build the understanding and credibility of the Bible and Gospel message, and how to give a defense of the Bible without giving offense.

Track Two: Preparing for suffering as Christians. Suffering and persecution is an expected part of the Christian life, however, Christians in Pakistan face severe persecution.* FMI wants to help church leaders learn how to identify, manage, and respond to the risks they face.

Track Three: Bible Study—participants will have a chance to study Paul’s letter to Ephesians in depth.

“You know, Jesus said ‘in the world you’re going to have trouble, but, be of good cheer because I’ve already overcome the world. So, any evil that comes against you I’ve overcome it. I’m greater than that.’ So, we want to go forward with confidence and with courage, but also be wise about how to do that,” Allen shares.

Get Involved

So please, pray for the security and protection of these Christians and this conference. Pray for their encouragement despite the persecution they face. Ask God to give them confidence, courage, a boldness to proclaim the Gospel, and also wisdom in doing so.

Pray for transportation to go smoothly, the financial needs for this conference to be met, and for this conference’s success. Also pray for Allen’s safety and his work at the conferences. Pray for the translators to work accurately and quickly, and for God’s hand to be evident at the conference. Finally, pray for peace in Pakistan.

And, if possible, would you tangibly help support FMI’s Pakistan conference?

Donate to FMI’s Pakistan conference here!

 

*Pakistan ranks #5 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List (WWL). The WWL is a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe.

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The Year Science Took Over the Pro-Life Movement

Even the technology touted at 2018’s March for Life can divide the cause when it comes to abortion policy.

The March for Life has taken place each January in Washington for 45 years, rallying Christian organizations, Republican politicians, and thousands of demonstrators dedicated to a timeless message about the sanctity of life and the need to protect the unborn.

The annual event has always evoked spiritual and political arguments. But this year’s also looked to science and technology to bolster the cause.

President Donald Trump, who spoke to the march by video from the White House, announced that Monday’s Roe v. Wade anniversary would be declared National Sanctity of Life Day (as Republican presidents before him have done).

“Science continues to support and build the case for life,” his proclamation states, referencing the advent of more detailed sonograms and the new possibilities for procedures done in utero as important medical advances for the pro-life cause.

“Today, citizens throughout our great country are working for the cause of life and fighting for the unborn, driven by love and supported by both science and philosophy,” Trump wrote.

Following his remarks, the first-ever offered by video from a sitting president, House Speaker Paul Ryan shouted to a cheering crowd at the National Mall.

“Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side,” the Catholic lawmaker said. “Life begins at conception. Science is on our side!”

Bolstered by a young generation of pro-life millennials and new developments in prenatal treatment, advocates see themselves in a better position than ever to change minds on abortion. The Atlantic details this trend in an article out Friday that asks, “Does the pro-life movement have science on its side?”

Science came …

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Hope Academy

Hope Academy offers comprehensive English-language instruction from preschool through 12th grade to the children of expatriate workers in Central Asia. We are committed to addressing the uniqueness and potential of each child, and encouraging the spiritual, intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth of our students, instilling an ethical worldview that will equip them for effective service to society.

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

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. Because it’s important that we really serve men and women no matter what the situation is — whether they’ve had an abortion or whether they’re contemplating it — and provide options for them so they can move forward in life with success.”

But for pro-life ministry and pregnancy counseling to be holistically effective, they need to be rooted in biblical truth and love.

“The pregnancy ministries in this country, most of them are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that Gospel is forgiveness, that is reconciliation, that is healing, and not discounting that one of the greatest needs of all people is to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But also in the context of that, in that environment, we do that in an atmosphere of love and compassion and mercy; offering options like English as a second language to some folks, offering parenting classes, and so many different things,” says Lothamer.

“With the Gospel, it has tremendous spiritual, emotional, and even physical implications which is saying, ‘You are worthy and we want to not only help you in your current situation, but for all of eternity.’”

As we approach Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, there are several free resources from Life Matters that you can use in your church. Click here for Life Matters’ free pro-life resources.

Along with advocacy and outreach, the biggest advances to save the lives of the unborn cannot happen without prayer.

“Pray for the end of abortion. Pray for those who have experienced abortion and need healing. Pray that the Gospel would go forth in all of these ministries.”

Lothamer also asks, “As Life Matters works in this way with so many different partners and with the Church and so forth, we would appreciate prayers as we deal with the issues of abortion and especially education, but also as we deal with the issues of the end of life and offering dignity of life to people at the end of their days.”

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

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 people want them, they’re needed. They don’t have any place to go. They don’t have bathrooms in their homes. They don’t have running water in their homes.”

She explains that even where people have cisterns of water, there is not a sanitary system to take care of waste. Flushed toilets empty into the streets.

“Even in Port Au Prince, you step off a curb, you step over the water because you know what’s in it,” she says.

What this means is that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to hygiene in Haiti. DeHart says, “everything else is so bad it’s one of the situations of ‘where do you start?’”

But rather than get stuck on that question, For Haiti with Love focuses on what they can do. So that means building latrines, and it means providing medical care through their burn clinic.

“We’re a small organization and we have focused in on helping where we can help, and burns are definitely an area where we can help. We build homes for homeless people when we have the money. We try to always include an outhouse as a part of that project.”

The result of their work is this: God is glorified because people understand that the work being done to improve their lives is only made possible because of God and the people he’s called to help.

(Photo courtesy of For Haiti with Love)

“Everything that you do down there is an opportunity to witness and to thank the Lord,” DeHart says.

She explains that time and time again, volunteers go to Haiti with the expectation to ‘evangelize’ the people there. But what usually ends up happening is those same volunteers come home humbled, and in a way, evangelized.

“Yes, there is a dark side to Haiti. But their light side, their godly side is so strong and so believing and they don’t have a problem understanding that God did this for them.”

If you’d like to engage with this story, start with prayer. Ask God to raise up the people to focus on bringing transformation to Haiti. Pray for renewal and for the Gospel to be known in Haiti. DeHart says we can also pray for those who have left Haiti to not view themselves as escapees, but as part of the solution.

If you’d like to help For Haiti with Love in their outreach in Haiti, click here.

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Nepal: Christians petition government to remove anti-conversion law

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

Instead, many Christians in Nepal have signed a petition urging the government to remove this anti-conversion law, but there’s been no word yet of how the petition is being received. Pastor Chhatri*, a pastor in Nepal explains:

“This decision made by [the] government made a great discouragement and brought fear in the life of Christians. But, we Christians leaders [and] families stand and encourage our people to adapt to any situation and to continue [to] share Christ and continue [to] encourage each other and support each other.”

Despite the law being in place, there hasn’t been much action from the government to enforce it. Chhatri explains this could be because the government is simply focused on other things. Still, many Christians in Nepal have been taking this opportunity to continue sharing Christ, equip God’s people, and plant churches.

Growth Under Pressure

Nepal has one of the fastest growing churches in the world. But, as the Church grows, it’s been running out of leaders. The Church in Nepal is actually in the midst of a leadership crisis because there aren’t enough leaders for the number of people turning to Christ in the country. Chhatri shares some pastors have committed to seeing the number of church leaders doubled in their lifetime.

(Photo courtesy of SarahTz via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/o5ZtN4)

“As the Church grows, the Hindu fanatic groups are challenging us and threatening us. Also, some particular groups are raising their price to suppress the Christians. But Christians do not worry about it, they continue following the calling of God…with a passion they’re engaged to fulfill the vision that is from God.”

Some Hindus even claim the reason why Christianity is growing in Nepal is simple– because of money. However, Christians have argued the idea Christianity puts forth about all people being equal is appealing. This is especially true in a society where the caste system still rules.

Pray

Please, pray for the Church in Nepal. Pray for Nepal’s leaders to serve with boldness and without fear, especially in the hopeful repeal of this anti-conversion law. Ask God to guide and encourage these Christians and to provide the resources needed for their ministries.

And finally, pray for more people to come to know Christ, for leaders to be raised in the Church, and for the Christians in Nepal to have the mentorship they need.

“I think the whole world needs Jesus. So, we have to work together and support each other, encourage each other. And reach the world, let the world know that Christ loves them,” Pastor Chhatri says.

 

*Name change for security reasons.

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These Trump Advisers Want a Dreamers Deal Enough to Meet with Nancy Pelosi

Evangelicals join the push for protection for young immigrants.

Many evangelicals won’t let partisan divides keep them from rallying for immigration reform, particularly the urgent push for congressional action to allow Dreamers—who entered the US as kids—to remain in America.

Several pastors and members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board met Thursday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who they cheered for her defense of young immigrants fighting for legal status.

A prominent Democrat in Congress, Pelosi also happens to rank among evangelicals most-disliked politicians; more than half (55%) of self-identified evangelicals had an unfavorable view of her in a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Yet Trump adviser and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) president Samuel Rodriguez (also a CT board member) told Pelosi today that “America is a better place because of your prophetic leadership” on immigration.

Two more evangelical advisers—Maryland pastor Harry Jackson and Southern Baptist minister Jay Strack—as well as two other NHCLC leaders also participated in the meeting in Washington with Pelosi, fellow religious leaders, and Dreamers themselves.

“We’re joined together in the spirit of bipartisanship, compelled by our faith, to protect our Dreamers,” the minority leader said in a press conference streamed on Facebook Live.

Currently, nearly 70 percent of evangelicals believe Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country, with 49 percent supporting a path to citizenship and 20 percent believing they should become legal residents but not citizens, Politico/Morning Consult found. (Overall, 75 percent of registered voters want the Dreamers to stay.)

For weeks, there have been talks of immigration …

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A Beacon of Hope in Guatemala

Imagine you live in an extremely poor village that has no access to electricity. You leave your home before sunrise to walk or ride your bicycle to work and return well after dark. The pathway is a dirt road which used to be railway many years ago. The walk or ride to your home, on this pathway which is now constructed from sticks, bamboo, and covered in plastic, is about a miles walk or ride from the main highway.

On this particular night there is no moonlight, only the light from the stars which is absolutely beautiful to look up and behold the beauty of God. However, you are really tired and just want to get home to your family.

So as you make your way through the dark on your bicycle, in the distance you see a bright light, like the light shining from a lighthouse guiding ships safely through the night. Only this light is providing a beacon of hope as it lights up the water tower and everything around it.

Then you notice another smaller, dimmer light along the side of the road up on a pole, lighting your pathway. As you get closer, it was like the light saw you coming and it got brighter. As you continued your journey on your way home to your family, this same scenario repeated several times. No more close calls of running over sleeping dogs or objects like old tires left in the road from children who had played there earlier that day.

Now you can make your way home safely to your family. And when you arrive home, you find your home seems a little brighter than the normal candle light. It seems while you were working, God heard your prayers to help your family. Now for the first time, your family has a solar powered light source that will continue to provide a safe and free source of light for many years.

His Hands International continues to be a witness for Jesus Christ in practical ways. By being the hands and feet of Jesus, we bring hope to those who have felt hopeless, we bring joy to the joyless, and we shine our light to reflect the LIGHT of JESUS!

For right around $25, we can install a solar powered, motion detector street light or a solar powered light bulb for a family. We have many more families and miles of road that we would like to illuminate.

All of our work is in vain if we, ourselves, are not a mirror reflecting the love of Jesus and giving all the glory back to HIM, for HIS provisions! Project illumination is a very inexpensive project with a major impact. Will you help us reflect the light of Jesus?

His Hands International has been working for over 10 years to improve the lives of people in Guatemala. We are CHE (Community Health Education/Evangelism) certified. We identify needs in the communities and then come up with a plan to help them help themselves. We are partners with Radio/TV Redencion in Gualan, Zacapa, Guatemala. His Hands International works with them through their local social center, helping to feed over 60 children twice weekly and provide twice weekly free medical clinics, clothing, and shoes through our Christmas Shoes Project.

If you are looking for a mission trip or a mission vacation, give us a call and we can put something together for you. If your church is looking to get involved in a fresh ministry, please contact His Hands International and learn how we can help your group plan your next trip. Learn more about upcoming projects here.

On MissionFinder, we have over 1,000 ministries offering opportunities like this to serve at home and around the world. Does your church or organization need help organizing mission trips? Check out our partner site, MissionMinder.com. Their easy to use software will help you manage all the details for your short-term mission trips and team members online. Unlimited Trips. Unlimited team members. Easy online fundraising pages. Try it free for 30 days. Learn more here. 

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Evangelical megachurch in China blown up by military police

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, it’s concerning.”

Golden Lampstand Church was one of two churches demolished last week. The Chinese government has also removed crosses and steeples from church buildings.

According to ChinaAid, new religious regulations will be established in China next month. Many believers are worried this could lead to more church demolitions like this one.

While some people may think the easy solution is just to register the unregistered churches, there are several reasons why churches avoid registering with the Chinese government. In fact, out of the estimated 60 million Christians in China, around half of them attend unregistered churches, according to The New York Times.

“Churches don’t register because [if they do,] they will have to comply with government interference and they’re told what they can teach from the Bible [and] what they cannot teach. It’s really strong government control in churches that are registered. So unregistered churches, they recognize that Christ is the head of the Church and they want to stay true to what the Bible teaches and have the freedom and the ability to teach that to their congregants.”

One Body

Rhodes says it seems the strategy of the Chinese government is to isolate and control the Church. Part of that also includes controlling what the government calls “foreign influence”, meaning missionaries.

“So, for example, we’ve seen South Korean missionaries expelled from China in staggering numbers, being kicked out of the country and told they cannot return. So it is an attempt to isolate the Chinese Church from the rest of the Body of Christ.”

(Photo courtesy of Bibles for China)

Nevertheless, Voice of the Martyrs Canada serves as a connection point between believers in China and the global Church.

“We will seek to be able to give them resources, things that they need to be able to continue to minister within China…. Christians in Canada can come alongside Voice of the Martyrs Canada or other organizations that work on behalf of Chinese Christians to help provide Chinese Christians the tools they need to fulfill and carry out the Gospel mandate within China.”

Rhodes shares, “What Chinese Christians need to recognize the most is that they are not cut off from the Body of Christ, that Christians around the world are praying for them, that Christians around the world remember them, that Christians around the world don’t see them as just the Church in China but see them as vital members of the Body of Christ.”

If you’d like to support Voice of the Marytrs Canada’s ministry, click here.

Worthy of Suffering for Jesus

Often when religious freedoms are violated and persecution situations spotlighted, Christians are quick to jump to advocacy and justice for those wronged. Rhodes says, “There have been calls for Christians to voice their concern or even in some cases their outrage over the fact that a government is destroying a church. And I agree, there is a time and place for Christians in Canada to write their local MPs, to write Chinese embassies, to write government officials and to advocate for Chinese Christians that are being persecuted.

“But I want to put a different spin on it. I want to say that maybe we should also take time to rejoice that the Chinese Church has been found worthy to suffer for Christ.

“You know, we see that in the Bible that when the apostles were arrested, when they were thrown in prison, when they were beaten — and we see in Church history when church leaders faced the same things — that they rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for Christ.”

In light of this reflection, please pray with the Church in China.

“We can pray for the Golden Lampstand Church, for the 50,000 Christian that were affected by the destruction of this church, that in the midst of this persecution that they would continue to rejoice and know again that they serve a God in Heaven; and what the enemy has meant for evil, God will turn to good and God will use it for his glory.”

 

(Header image screenshot courtesy of ChinaAid)

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

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.
  • Crucicentrism: The centrality of the Cross.
  • Conversion: That God changes lives, there is power in the Gospel to change people.
  • Activism: The act of living out the Gospel both in missional and social contexts.

Responding

While the conversation surrounding the term ‘evangelical’ can be tense, it is opening a door to reflection and inspection on where the American evangelic movement is and how Christians in America are living it out. Where are the American Church’s strengths and weakness in the categories described above? And how can Christians start engaging in this conversation?

“I think on campus for us…working on this means welcoming diverse viewpoints on campus. Engaging in the full diversity on campus. Cultivating a learning environment so we can listen well. Cultivating civil discourse– how do we engage well with these kinds of issues and conversations?” Lin says.

On a bigger scale, Lin recommends taking a page out of the global Church’s book, too. As the American Church reflects on how it can grow, it’s important to also look at how the rest of the Church lives out the four evangelical emphases. And it’s likely that if the American church collectively looks outside of itself to what other brothers and sisters are doing, they will be inspired.

“Certainly the challenges we see in our culture and society today. The political challenges, the challenges to the Church, these are challenges that are also present in other parts of the global Church. So, what can we learn from them as well?” Lin prompts.

Why Being Global Matters

And in today’s day and age, it’s not just the Church that’s a global entity, but even cultures, businesses, and societies. And with this globalization, more and more missionary movements are coming to the U.S. in efforts to help re-evangelize the West.

“I think we can learn from places in the world where the Church is becoming marginalized. How do we function in that sort of environment? How do we thrive in that sort of environment?” Lin says. “In places where the Church or evangelicals are not happy with the political climate, or are challenged by it, how do we act? How do we live?”

InterVarsity President Tom Lin speaks at Urbana 2015.(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

Those are the type of questions that are answered and dealt with in “Still Evangelical?”. And it’s Lin’s hope that this book and these questions will provoke an honest discussion of where the American Church is currently at. He also hopes it will help Christians living in America think about how they are living out their faith, what it means to be evangelical, and hope for the term ‘evangelical’.

“I write in my chapter about hope for the next generation because I do believe that evangelicalism is not dead,” Lin says.

“And while we may change the word or we might not change the word, I don’t think it’s dead. We actually have a lot of hope for the future. We are seeing at InterVarsity record numbers of students coming to faith in Christ. In fact, the most in our 76-year history. We’re seeing more people come to Christ than ever before.”

Engaging and Praying

And because the United States truly is a melting pot, the global Church is already in its midst. It would be good for all Christians in America to engage with and factor in how evangelism doesn’t just translate in their context, but also in other contexts such as where Christians are minorities.

“Whatever organization or Church you’re a part of I think we need to do better in engaging people of color. And that’s going to be significant for us,” Lin explains. “And lastly I think as we think about our mission as evangelicals and engaging the culture today, how do we do that with fidelity to doctrine but also fidelity to Christ’s mission?”

Learn what Lin and many others have to say about this in “Still Evangelical?”.

And while we wait for the book to be released, would you pray? Please, pray for the Church in America, for healthy discussions about the term ‘evangelical’, and for this book to reach as many people as possible to help jumpstart this conversation.

Find “Still Evangelical? here!

 

*InterVarsity is also engaging with this topic on college campuses. To learn more about how InterVarsity is doing so, visit intervarsity.org.

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

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 some of the final resources. 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 Word that He will do exceedingly and abundantly more than we think or ask. He sent an entire group of 27 people, Michael Maher who did the worship, I preached, my son shared his testimony, and then all of those kids got free Bibles and Christian books because that man, that morning decided that he was not going to stand for anything other than the move of God.”

The dean of that school understood whose he was. He understood that with the living God inside him, he could pray and expect for God to do something glorious.

Bigger, more expectant goals

(Courtesy of Mission Cry)

In addition to the amazing stories like the school in Belize, 2017 was a record-breaking year for Mission Cry. The team sent out about 13 million dollars’ worth of used Bibles and Christian books to 24 different countries around the world. And this year they are looking to do even more.

Woolford pointed out that in Isaiah it says God’s Word does not return empty. It is active and accomplishes His purposes. So, with that in mind and knowing that God hears the prayers of His people, Woolford and his team are setting a lofty goal. In 2018 they want to send even more Bibles and Christian books out than they did last year.

Already the team has sent out two sea containers to India and Ghana with about 70,000 Bibles and Christian books packed inside. They are chipping away at their goal, but they need help.

Make a difference

Mission Cry seeks the prayers of God’s people as they continue to send Christian resources around the world.

Woolford asks specifically for prayers for a container headed to India. He explains, “The container that is headed to India, we’ve been prompted by the Lord just to pray extra hard that we’d have no problems in getting it released on the other side. India’s becoming a difficult situation in getting things in and out of, but most importantly into. What they’re doing is the government is taking a lot of these Christian organizations and putting them on a do not accept container list. Just so they can keep things like the Word of God from coming into the country.”

Pray that the container enters India without trouble. Ask God to give Mission Cry wisdom with where to send further resources and when.

Consider donating resources or money to Mission Cry to help fund their goal to reach more people, like the school in Belize, with the good news of the Gospel. Woolford hopes you are encouraged by the testimony of the school dean here and can see the impact of bringing Bibles and resources to those who need them.

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SignAll removes communication barriers

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.”

signall_motion capture

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.

Gospel hunger in Ghana

DOOR’s Ghanaian Sign Langauge team took Scripture portions to Ghana for “community testing.” In this process, Deaf community members watch Bible portions in draft form. Team members ask how clear, accurate, natural, and acceptable they found the translation to be, and then record all responses.

Unannounced, a group of Deaf Muslim men attended the session.

“They sat in the back of the room, participated in the testing, talked about what they understood and didn’t understand,” Myers says. “When the testing was finished, they approached DOOR’s leaders as a group.”

DOOR’s leaders were intimidated, but that response quickly gave way to joy as the Muslim men began to sign.

We can’t believe what you’ve just shown us. For years and years we’ve been in the mosque and we’ve seen people pray, and the imam has gotten up to preach. But, we haven’t had access to anything that’s been going on before. 

Now, for the first time, you’re sharing with us stories about God, and we’ve never seen stories about God in our heart language. We are so excited to have access to these stories…we would love to get copies of them, and show them in the mosque to other Deaf people.

Learn more about DOOR’s work in sign language Bible translation.

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To the ends of the earth

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 Mission is a good place to start. “We’re actually out in the field through our networks, over 30 networks from Senegal to Indonesia telling people who have never heard of Jesus about what He did for the first time in their lives,” Kelley said.

For Kelley and his ministry, the bottom line is that the Great Commission is not optional. “When I learned about the unreached, I realized there’s no greater calling than to position yourself so that you’re telling someone for the first time in their life that Jesus died for them, that there’s a Savior, and that they can have a relationship with him,” Kelley said.

“Find yourself in the story. What’s your place?”

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Christian persecution on the rise reveals 2018 World Watch List

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.

Bangladesh

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 in ranking from 2017 at number 4 to 2018 at number 5. It’s score also changed by two points, falling from 88/100 in 2017 to 86/100 in 2018.

“Especially in Pakistan, I’ll take any improvement that we can get. But the scores have only negligible difference, the score of 86 versus 88 last year. In that case, again, it means that other countries have gotten worse, not that Pakistan has gotten a whole lot better,” Allen explains.

Christian Persecution Worsening

Just in the 2015 World Watch List Allen says half of the countries it listed had moderate persecution levels. Yet, the following year changed that. In 2016, none of the countries could be placed in moderate persecution level category because the persecution levels were just too severe. And in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 World Watch Lists, all 50 countries listed have high, very high, or extreme levels of Christian persecution.

“Cumulatively all the scores are inching higher,” Allen shares. “Last year the highest score, held by North Korea, was 92…But this year there are two countries with scores that are higher than 92… [they are] North Korea and Afghanistan.”

In the 2018 list, North Korea ranked number one again with a score of 94/100 and Afghanistan ranked number two with a score of 93/100. With that said, persecution is progressively getting worst for Christians around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, but also the Americas, specifically Latin America.

A Driving Force

What’s causing the rise? The World Watch List also measures the driving force behind Christian persecution. And this year’s results may not be surprising.

”We can see very clearly that radical Islam is driving today’s persecution of Christians,” Allen says. “Nine out of the top 10 countries (or the worst countries) in the world show Islamic oppression as the source of persecution. The majority of incidents of persecution in two-thirds of the countries on the list are fueled by Islamic oppression.”

FMI_Muslim prayer in Pakistan

Muslim workers pause for a few minutes along an alleyway in the afternoon to offer their ritual prayers.
(Image, caption courtesy of FMI)

Many of these countries facing Islamic oppression are Muslim-majority countries. However, there have been exceptions like Kenya, Ethiopia, and others. In these outliers, the main religion is Christianity.

But, many of the minority Muslims have become increasingly vocal and/or brutal towards Christians. Allen says in these countries, the Muslim minorities are on the attack.

And if the first thought to come to mind at the term Islamic oppression or radical Islam are groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al Qaida and more, think again. A lot of the persecution and attacks are actually coming from Christians’ family members and neighbors who are trying to uphold the honor of Islam.

Attacks can range from forced marriages to rape to family members throwing their Christian sibling or child off the top of a building to try and kill them. It can mean being poisoned or even being stripped naked and watching as the family burns all their possessions, barring the person from leaving the home. Persecution can even be drawn into the courts as a legal battle, like what is currently happening with Ahmed, a highly influential and strategic co-laborer for the Gospel in Pakistan.

Pray and Act

So please, pray for Christians facing persecution to be encouraged and to have perseverance and the strength to not just endure but to thrive. Ask God to give these same Christians creativity, wisdom, and the resources needed to teach literacy and share the Gospel. Pray for God to move amongst the governments and municipal leaders to eliminate discrimination against Christians.

Also, pray for God’s protection over congregations when they meet and for people in these persecuted countries to come to know Christ.

Another way to help is by coming alongside these persecuted Christians and providing them with the funds for necessary resources. FMI helps provide tangible resources and supplemental support to pastors and church planters in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Will you help support your brothers and sisters in Christ?

To give through FMI, click here!

To access the 2018 World Watch List, click here!

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Why I’ve Spent Half My Life Helping North Korea

Despite political and military tensions in the region, the director of Christian Friends of Korea is committed to medical ministry.

North Korea’s recent decision to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics comes at a time when the country has arguably never been more isolated from the West. Recent actions and counteractions between the United States and North Korea have led to unprecedented tensions in a long-strained relationship. The State Department issued a travel ban that forced about 200 Americans working there to leave before it went into effect, and more recently, the United Nations initiated new sanctions against the country.

Despite the risks and restrictions—some of which have been ongoing for decades—American Christians have found ways to minister to North Koreans in need. For some, it means teaching young people at the evangelical-founded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. For Heidi Linton, who serves as the director of Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), it means serving gravely sick North Koreans.

CFK describes its mission as sharing “God’s heart of love and grace to the North Korean people primarily within the context of tuberculosis and hepatitis.” “These are both very serious diseases in North Korea that affect hundreds of thousands—probably millions,” said Linton, who has been working in the country since the mid-1990s.

Linton, along with her American team members, must now secure special validation passports to continue working in North Korea. She spoke recently with CT about her family’s long connection to North Korea, her personal relationships with citizens of the closed country, and the role Billy Graham played in catalyzing CFK’s work.

To what extent has fear factored into your work?

How can you avoid fear when it comes to North Korea? That said, I …

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Lebanese Church partnering to reach refugees

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: https://flic.kr/p/7XGhAB)

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 massive. With over 400 million Muslims in the Arabic speaking world, the local Church needs help to grow and reach more people.

Partnerships with a purpose

Horizons International works with these churches, providing training to locals and working directly with refugees at ministry centers.

Heading into 2018, Horizons International is praying to expand their partnerships as well as those of local Lebanese churches. With increased partnerships, the local church will be able to train more leaders and get the ministry resources needed to those seeking Christ.

Houssney believes partnership with the local Church Body is a critical role for Western churches to play in the Middle Eastern mission field.

“We are seeing a huge impact when we have near culture believers from the Middle East reach out to these other cultures, yet they don’t have the resources and they don’t have the training resources. So we need partnerships to be formed between the historically Christian areas and pioneering Christian areas, so that we can grow the Kingdom in these strategic areas.”

Looking forward

Over the last five years, Houssney says that Horizons International has seen great advances for the Gospel. They’ve established centers in both the Middle East and in North Africa for outreach. Horizons has worked to provide stability in the Bekaa Valley, which is the first stop for many Syrian refugees coming into Lebanon. A ministry center has also been established in Jordan. And recently the Lord has opened doors to go into Syria.

(Courtesy of Horizons International)

However, there is still much work to do.

“You can pray that God would continue opening the hearts of Syrian refugees and Muslims all over the world to the Gospel because this is a time of amazing harvest. And we’re actually praying that the Lord would actually open the door even further. That this would not be a window of opportunity but it would be a continued season of opportunity,” says Houssney.

Pray also that Horizons International would be able to build up their newest initiative: the Middle East Center for World Missions. This center will act as a hub for missions activity throughout the Middle East. It will help to facilitate the mobilization, training, and sending of missionaries from Middle Eastern countries.

To learn more about this initiative visit mecwm.org.  Or to give to Horizons International to help spread the Gospel in the Middle East.

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Ambition Conference prompts students and staff to action

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 campuses. During this time students also worked through a ten step guide meant to help the students with the next steps to outreach.

Yet, this outreach training wasn’t only for students. Volunteers at Ambition also had a chance to learn how to get involved on college campuses and reach out to students too. And Horvath is excited to see how God will use these people and this training to impact campuses.

Reaching College Campuses

With that said, the Ambition conference is a conference which calls everyone to act. Everyone has a role they can play in reaching college campuses. And chances are, it looks different from what you’d expect.

“We’ve said from the stage, ‘Students, God is using you and you have spiritual authority. Walk in that.’ And one of our speakers said, ‘InterVarsity staff, you probably feel like I’ve told you, you don’t have a job anymore,’” Horvath explains.

“And everyone kind of laughed, but, the truth is that sometimes our students have more of a stronger faith and risk-taking than we do, and to trust in them and what God is leading them to do. And allow them to lead and empower them.”

Why Campuses Matter

For some, college campuses may seem like a cold institution where a person’s faith goes to die. However, that isn’t the case. And even if it were, wouldn’t it make campus ministry outreach that much more important?

“The four years a student is on campus are the most formative years of a person’s life. That is where they are going to make decisions based on what they truly believe, how they will live their life, what is important to them,” Horvath explains.

(Photo Courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship via Facebook)

“If we can reach them there, then we’re impacting their next four years of life. We’re impacting how they engage with their faith. How they are involved with the Church. How they change the world.”

For Horvath, that’s the exciting part of college campus ministry. Because once these students earn their degree and turn the page to a next life chapter, their faith influences who they decide to be and what changes they decide to bring to their field, whether it be nursing, coding for Google, or even teaching.

“It’s exciting to think what God will do if each one of these attendees will leave and plant or go to a new corner of their campus—how we could reach the  U.S. in the next three years,” Horvath says.

News, Prayers, and Ways to Get Involved

And now, InterVarsity and Cru, whose Executive Director of U.S. Campus Ministry, Mark Gauthier, spoke at Ambition, are joining together in efforts to see more students and faculty on campuses across the U.S. come to know Jesus as their savior. As a part of their joint work, the two ministries will be launching a website where individuals, churches, and other ministries can come together to see the Gospel spread on every U.S. campus.

Click here for the site!

Please pray for these students and staff who attended Ambition. Pray for them to be reminded and encouraged by the fact that nothing hinders what God is doing or has planned for them. Ask God to empower these students and for them to boldly return to their campuses, stepping out in faith.

Pray for InterVarsity staff, for doors to open for further ministry and the call God has on their lives. Also pray for InterVarsity and Cru’s partnership, for people to join the movement, and for the Gospel to quickly reach unreached campuses.

Click here to connect with InterVarsity to learn how to reach college campuses for Christ.

Want to help support InterVarsity staff? Click here to give to InterVarsity.

Learn more about Ambition here!

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Ceasefire extended in Sudan; Christian persecution continues

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 this ceasefire is in place and the bombing has been less than what it was previously, there are still issues of persecution, even in the capital city of Khartoum of church buildings being torn down,” Nettleton says.

In cases like this, the government claims that the churches do not have the correct paperwork to own the property, and it is seized.

“It is still a difficult place to be a Christian. There is absolutely still a lot of persecution in Sudan. But it is encouraging to see this ceasefire continue because if it holds, and we hope it will, it allows the people in those regions to kind of get back to a normal kind of life to plant crops and still be in the same place to tend to the crops and to get a harvest. So, it’s a positive thing.”

Unity in the Church

But as long as persecution exists, the Voice of the Martyrs will do what they can to keep the Sudanese Church alive and strong.  “We are continuing to be in contact with the Church and to find ways that we can assist and encourage and bless them as they go through this time of persecution.”

Petr Jasek (Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs)

Nettleton says that there are many challenges to their ministry in Sudan. He recalls how one of their workers, Petr Jasek, was imprisoned for 14 months under baseless accusations. After his release, Nettleton was able to interview Jasek about his time in prison.

“One of the specific things that he talked about that was such a blessing and such an encouragement to him as he was in prison (and there were three other men that were in prison with him, two of them were pastors) … as they were taken to court, Sudanese Christians would gather outside of the courthouse and sing hymns.

“And he told the story of one of the pastors—he recognized the hymn because it was in his tribal language. And these were people from his tribe and his part of the country who had come to Khartoum. They were outside the courthouse singing hymns.

“And Petr said, ‘You know, I looked across at this pastor, and there were tears streaming down his face because he realized ‘I’m not alone. Those are my people out there singing, they’re encouraging me.’”

What makes this even more moving is this: “Those people risked their own arrest and imprisonment to just be outside the courthouse to wave and sing hymns to encourage the people who had already been arrested and were already on trial.”

And it’s this encouragement– this devotion to one another– that helps to strengthen the Church. It is an incredible courage that springs out of the mindfulness of the full Body of Christ.

“That’s why the Church in Sudan is not going to be defeated by government actions and they’re not going to be defeated if their church building gets torn down. They understand that the Church is much, much more than a building. And there are believers there who are willing to risk their freedom in order to serve God and to serve other brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.”

(Photo courtesy of Trevor Cole via Unsplash)

And you can be a part of serving the Church in Sudan. The most significant way is to pray. Nettleton says to pray for the believers to be encouraged, protected, and strengthened.  And, he says, “The Bible calls us to pray for the persecutors. So, we want to pray for the government of Sudan. We want to pray for the president to come to faith in Christ and for his heart and his life to be changed by that. So, we can really have an impact in the nation of Sudan through our prayers.”

What this latest development with the ceasefire reveals is that anyone in the United States who cares about the status of human rights in Sudan should let their representatives know.

“Our government really does have influence in these kinds of situations and as Christians, we want to be heard and speak out on behalf of the issues that we care about, including how our brothers and sisters are treated around the world.”

Learn more ways to support the Persecuted Church, here!

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