China (MNN) – There’s a lot of debate on whether believers in the Chinese Church have religious freedoms. Many underground churches have faced persecution and some legal churches have as well. This has landed China as number 39 on Open Door’s World Watch List.
“Public evangelism is frowned upon and is often met with some, I guess, with a response because [Chinese authorities] don’t really allow anybody, any religion, or anybody to [do] that kind of thing and they seek harmony,” Bibles for China’s James St. John shares.
However, St. John, who has traveled with Bibles for China a number of times, also says he’s also witnessed the freedoms legal churches and the believers have as well as the freedom to own a Bible.
“God’s Church is growing there and the freedom is there for them to gather to worship. Obviously, there’s regulation. Again, it’s a communist country. And as Westerners, it’s hard for us to understand that sometimes. But people who are functioning within the rules – that even sounds kind of harsh – but they’re allowed to function that way to have the freedom to worship,” St. John says.
Travels to China
St. John first traveled to China in 2004 and has continued returning both to serve the Chinese Church through Bibles for China and to adopt his children.
He says when he and his wife first went to China, they had negative expectations which proved to be wrong. Instead they, “had an extremely positive experience and as far as the Church in China, our exposure began on that first trip.”
He shares that on that trip, his guide was a Christian who openly talked about her experience of Christianity in China.
“As a pastor, that appealed to my heart in a real way. And we’ve just carried such a heavy burden for China ever since then and have been back a number of times.”
Since 2004, he has been to China eleven times and continues to see how God is working in the Church.
(Photo courtesy of Bibles for China via Facebook)
When he first attended a trip with Bibles for China, St. John says he’d interacted with Chinese Christians on other trips, but he’d never actually been to one of the churches.
When his team went to a Church, he was moved by how passionate the believers were about the Bible and God.
He says one man had a laminated passage from John.
“He had held onto [it] since the cultural revolution and that had been, in a sense, his Bible all those years. That is what he’d carried with him. That just struck such a chord in my heart of the real need in the Church in China for us to support the production and distribution of Bibles within the official Church in China.”
St. John says giving the man a complete Bible and adding to his passage from John was a joyful privilege.
Misconceptions of the Chinese Church
He has shared stories like this on social media, and not surprisingly, just as St. John had misconceptions before going to China, others have as well. They’ve asked if he or the believers would be arrested for posting their story, which he says they would not.
“Probably the most common misconception is from a Western perspective. There’s a question of why can’t they just go out and get their own Bible. And I’ve seen Bibles in bookstores in China, but the majority of time, those are in the major metropolitan centers. You’re talking about Beijing and Shanghai,” St. John says.
“But the majority of China doesn’t exist in that portion of the culture. The majority of China is far from that in the rural towns and in the small cities where they don’t have that access.”
St. John says many times, Westerners have multiple copies of the Bible laying around their house, but it’s different in China.
“It’s just a reality, in a country of that size, with that population that there are people who do not have access. They don’t have the ability to get one for themselves or have one on their own.”
In remote areas where Bibles are scarce, Bibles for China is supplying believers who are part of the legal Chinese Church with God’s Word.
For the price of a cup of coffee, you can give a Bible through Bibles for China too. Five dollars can give the Word of God to a believer or unreached person in China.
That trip greatly impacted Barrett’s life. Barrett says during the travels, he got a taste of the reality people were experiencing. It was a catalyst for his involvement with a children’s hospital in Ukraine and also, along with the help of Paul Newman, starting a children’s camp in Belarus.
200 children and teens heard the Gospel at a summer Bible camp, 2015. (Photo, caption courtesy of SGA)
Fast forward to recent history, and a few weeks ago Barrett traveled with current SGA President Michael Johnson, and a videographer, to Ukraine to do filming and ministry. We’ll be sharing more on the film tomorrow.
But, why has Barrett become so enchanted with this particular ministry?
“The work that Slavic Gospel is doing there, among the churches, and among the people, the orphanages and so on, is just really pretty amazing,” Barret explains.
“I’ve worked with a lot of groups in the last 30 years and I’m so impressed with how they use the resources. And the spiritual effect that it’s had on so many lives over there, I mean it just, it amazes me really.”
Returning to the Former Soviet Union
Barret says he’s made nearly 10 trips back to Ukraine and the surrounding area since that first fateful trip. During his second-to-last trip to the area, Barrett delivered a sonogram machine to the camp he had started. The machine was given by Paul Newman just before he died.
“I try to go back as often as I can and each time I do, I see more need. When I come back, I try to do what I can to raise some money and get some support. Paul Newman was probably the biggest supporter I had, everything I did he would jump in. So, that gap needs to be filled and that’s why we’re doing this video,” Barret shares. “To show what the needs are and so people can really see what’s going on.”
Furthermore, people don’t have money to relocate or leave their war-torn homes. There’s a lot of alcoholism in these areas as well as social orphans. But in the midst of a desperate situation, SGA is coming alongside local churches. By offering support, these churches can reach out to their country people with tangible relief and the hope of Christ.
Admiration for Slavic Gospel Association
“I’ve been to a lot of ministry headquarters. And SGA is not anywhere near the top of the list as far as building is concerned. I mean, it’s adequate and it’s modest, and the people are great,” Barret explains.
Damaged building in Ukraine (Photo courtesy of SGA)
“But, they’re not building a monument to themselves or for themselves, they use the money where it’s needed. And that’s what’s impressed me so much about Slavic Gospel and that’s why I’m so behind them is because I see the waste in other ministries.”
So please, take a chance and get involved with SGA. Start by praying through SGA’s daily prayer calendar. Ask God to reveal how he would have you be involved. You can also tell friends about the ministry’s work, too. Also, become familiar with the various areas of ministry SGA is involved with.
Another way to help is by coming alongside SGA financially. Help the ministry meet the physical needs of the people in Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet Union.
And finally, pray for open hearts to the Gospel in Ukraine. Ask God to work through the churches SGA supports to share the hope of Christ.
Venezuela (MNN) — President Nicolás Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential elections for a second term Sunday night. His next presidential term will last for another six years.
While Venezuela reports Maduro won 68 percent of the votes, the nation saw a staggeringly low turnout with less than half of registered voters participating.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro (Photo courtesy of newsonline via Flickr under Creative Commons: https://goo.gl/mNS16i)
It’s no secret that controversy surrounded this last election season in Venezuela. The European Union and several Latin nations exhorted that Venezuela’s presidential election was proceeding unfairly. Other nations, including the United States, denounced the election outright as a sham.
Steve Shantz with Trans World Radio (TWR) says, “I think the situation that is really of concern is that even if one of the opposition candidates were allowed to win, would that really change Venezuela’s fortunes? The economic woes that they are experiencing, would there be any relief for the citizens, the people of Venezuela who are really suffering these days? And the answer to that is probably not because they would face severe opposition from the military and organized crime in the country that very much back the socialist revolution that has happened there in Venezuela.”
This volatile election season comes at a time when the country is facing a lot of other turmoil. Citizens are suffering under a failing healthcare system and an unprecedented economic crisis. Venezuela currently has the world’s highest inflation rate at 13,000 percent.
“I heard of one guy who quit his job because he realized he just spent his entire salary on a pizza with his girlfriend. People don’t have enough resources to live on anymore. The minimum wage so far in 2018 has already been raised 56 times to try to keep track with inflation. Pharmacies have no medicines. Supermarkets have huge lines. So life is just very, very difficult for people on an everyday basis.”
The prevailing feeling is that, so far, nothing seems like it will change. And yet, everything has changed.
(Photo courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)
“People are very disheartened,” Shantz shares. “A friend of mine, a Venezuelan, just went back to Venezuela to visit her family and said that the whole mood in the country has changed and people have changed and everybody is despondent and depressed because of the situation that they’re in.”
In an environment like this, hope is hard to come by. But that’s where TWR comes in. Their radio programs are broadcasting the Gospel throughout Venezuela.
One of TWR’s morning shows is called Despertar, which means ‘Wake Up’ — a fitting title for a community that desperately needs to be reinvigorated with a spiritual hope that goes deeper than politics or the economy.
“We’re not trying to address the political situation. We’re trying to bring hope into people’s lives and bringing a message of hope to them through what the Bible teaches for how we should deal with these situations in our lives and also that there is hope in faith in God and in Jesus Christ.”
However, TWR’s programming hasn’t been without difficulty as well. “Our offices are in Maracay and there has been electrical failure in the neighborhood where the offices are in. So we’ve been unable to produce radio programs because there is no electricity. Our staff are really struggling to continue to operate there, but we are broadcasting a daily message of hope into Venezuela.”
Venezuela needs the Body of Christ’s prayers on multiple fronts.
For TWR, Shantz shares, “Our staff has asked us to pray for them so they would be able to continue to be able to function on a daily basis, just to get to work and get home again. They have asked us to pray that the electricity would be restored so that they can continue to produce the radio programs because they are passionate about the ministry to their own countrymen.”
Please also pray for Venezuela as a nation and the citizens who are suffering in the current circumstances. Shantz suggests as you pray, put yourself in their shoes.
“Pick somebody, an imaginary person in Venezuela who has the same job as you and picture how you would be able to function and carry on your daily life in the situations that they are facing. Pray for that person specifically. Pray for somebody like you in Venezuela, that God would meet their needs and that God would fix the problems in the country and that Venezuela would be ultimately returned one day to a more stable economic basis so that people’s lives can go on.”
Asian Access is a vibrant community devoted to DEVELOP. MULTIPLY. TRANSFORM. We are an interdenominational movement working throughout Asia to identify, develop and release leaders of growing and reproducing churches. We’re focused on training key leaders who will lead the church with vision, character and competence. We are becoming a vibrant community of leaders in twenty countries of Asia, who will unite the church, extend the Kingdom, and transform the cultures of Asia for the glory of God.
Some limited their growth to keep it more personal and intimate, some because a smaller size fit the skills and goals of the leadership, some because they felt it was the best way to maintain quality control, and so on.
But they all had one thing in common — an obsession with making their business better, combined with the belief that staying small was the best way for them to do that.
But how do we keep getting better if we’re not getting bigger? And what does this have to do with church and ministry?
Even if you want your church to grow but it isn’t, you still have a choice about helping the small church you lead become better.
Your Church Has A Choice
Not everything (or even most things) in Small Giants applies to the church world, but what does is quite striking. Let’s take a look at a few of the takeaways from Burlingham’s work that can readily be adapted to what we see in church leadership. (Note: all parentheses are mine.)
“Virtually every mass-market business (church leadership) bestseller … has concentrated on the people in and the practices of large public companies (big churches). … …
China (MNN) — When China Partner’s Linda Pervenecki traveled to China to do youth ministry, she thought she at least understood how old her ministry targets would be.
Turns out, things were more complicated than she thought.
“The younger generation is missing in some of the churches, so when we first started talking about youth ministry within an American context thinking they were talking about high school students, we realized they were talking about people under 50,” Pervenecki recalls.
Some of the churches already had ministries in place for “young professionals,” but China Partner quickly discovered that this really just meant anyone who hadn’t retired yet. The definition of “youth” was broad. China Partner would have to adapt its strategy.
(Photo courtesy of China Partner)
But why such a wide range? Pervenecki says it’s because of who isn’t coming to church. From high schoolers to college students and beyond, young people simply aren’t interested in church. Millennials, especially, “have different goals and mindsets than the previous generation. They’re just different thinkers.”
That’s a problem in a country with 590 million out of its 1 billion citizens under the age of 30. An indigenous pastor told Pervenecki “‘We have a lot of older people, a lot of women, and a lot of undereducated people.’ He wasn’t saying we don’t want these people in our churches, but it points to the problem of who’s missing in the churches.”
So local churches are trying to do something about it. “They are really trying to think themselves and looking for help to have a more effective outreach to be able to include all of the people of China so they’ll come into their churches and hear the message of Jesus,” Pervenecki explained.
Enter YouthServe, a branch of China Partner’s ministry that focuses specifically on people under the age of 30. They’re providing training for and dialogue with pastors in China, asking what they’re seeing, what works or doesn’t work, and what they need. YouthServe is also advocating the need for local churches to focus on ministering to young people.
Part of that comes through small group ministry. Pervenecki says small groups can be especially attractive to a generation that’s “always looking for connections and relationships”.
(photo courtesy of China Partner)
As pastors ask for training on “how to do youth ministry in their specific context,” YouthServe is going to need help. That’s why they partnered with youth ministry trainers from the Philippines to train over 160 leaders at a Bible school. That partnership will continue as both ministries move forward.
But they’re going to need more help. Even if you can’t be on the front lines, your prayer makes all the difference. “It’s always a joy to share when we do a training that we’re not there in ourselves, we’ve been sent by many people in the rest of the world who are praying for and supporting them, and it really connects us as a global Church that way.”
Pray that “God would multiply the seeds that have been sown so many more young people in China can find Jesus”.
India (MNN) — Barisha is a wife and mother living in India. Not long ago, her family lived in deep spiritual darkness. Barisha used to practice witchcraft to take revenge on those who offended her. And instead of taking her children to a medical facility when they were sick, she took them to the witchdoctor. Her children even started to follow her example of bitterness and practice witchcraft as well.
Barisha’s husband was pained by this and tried to convince Barisha to leave vengeance to karma. But she persisted in witchcraft and it took a toll of their marriage.
(Photo courtesy of Mission India)
However, all that was about to change. Erik Morsehead with Mission India shares, “One day, one of our partners opened up an Adult Literacy Class program in her village. So Barisha started going to that.”
Mission India’s Adult Literacy Classes help men and women in India gain a 5th grade education in reading, writing, and math. Many of the students from the Adult Literacy Classes even start their own home businesses.
“[Barisha] gradually started gaining skills in literacy and other areas of education and started participating in special trades which these classes often bring which taught her about health. Then she realized she should be taking her kids to a regular doctor so she started doing that.”
In addition to the physical and social transformation, Barisha experienced a profound spiritual transformation.
An Adult Literacy Class with Mission India. (Photo courtesy of Mission India via Facebook)
“The great thing about this Adult Literacy Class program is that it brings in the love of Jesus Christ into these programs. So she started learning about Jesus through her teacher and as she learned about Jesus and what He did for her, it prompted her to stop spending her income and time in witchcraft and she started to read the Scripture and started to pray. And we just celebrate that eventually, Barisha did commit her life to Jesus Christ!” Morsehead shares.
Previously, Barisha led her family in witchcraft and watched her marriage suffer. Now she is a witness to her own family of the power of the Gospel.
“Her heart was just filled with peace that she had been longing for. Her family has been transformed…. Her children were following her lead with everything they did. They also now are starting to follow her lead and starting to go to church and seeking what Jesus means to them.”
The three men are Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song. Kim Dong-chul was arrested in 2015 and then sentenced a year later to ten years of hard labor, on a conviction of espionage. The other two were arrested last year on charges of hostile acts.
The release of these prisoners is viewed as the removal of a roadblock to the summit planned between President Trump and Kim Jong-un next month. However, this meeting could be on the rocks following North Korea’s threat to pull out.
Regardless of whether or not the meeting takes place, Robert Kenna of Open Doors USA says the release of the prisoners is exciting news, and that it draws attention to the greater human rights issues in North Korea.
North Korean flags (Photo courtesy of John Pavelka via Flickr under Creative Commons License)
“This is just a very small beginning in scratching the surface on what’s really happening in the country. And so, we’re incredibly excited that three prisoners have kind of a different trajectory for their lives, outside of North Korean prisons and interrogation camps. But we’re also pointing awareness to the more than 50,000 Christians that we believe are held in those interrogation centers and prison cells and work camps throughout the country.”
North Korea has topped the World Watch List for the last 17 years. So, if the prisoner release is a sign of good will and openness to discuss other issues, the question is this: What is it going to take for North Korea to no longer top the World Watch List?
Kenna says, “It is ranked as toughest place in the world for Christians. And a lot of that is because the regime—it makes no room for faith or Christianity. That faith needs to be worshipping the Kims and the regime. So, believers have to go in secret and worship.”
If people are found out to be Christians, they and their families will be punished. Additionally, Kenna says, the regime has established a network of spies among the citizens of North Korea. Anyone who reveals the illegal acts of another will be rewarded. In some cases, even children rat out their parents, whether on purpose or by accident.
For North Korea to no longer be considered the number one offender of religious freedoms for Christians, this environment needs to change.
“There’s not going to be freedom in North Korea until there is freedom for Christians and there’s freedom for free thought,” Kenna says.
The challenge is that Christianity inherently undermines the values of the Kim regime. In North Korea, human life is generally undervalued. But the Gospel says all humans have great worth.
(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)
“This is why North Korea really sees Christianity as a threat because it is an idea that’s in direct opposition to the Kim regime.”
Another issue is that the borders are closed. For the last several decades, families have been separated into North and South Korea. And more so, the isolation paired with propaganda has meant people are told how to think and how to act.
“North Korea is a place of intellectual and idea poverty.”
Therefore, people can get into big trouble for having Bibles, for meeting together to worship, or for missing propaganda meetings. The government is trying to arrest each and every last area of free thinking and choice of belief.
“It’s a really difficult system to be within. And I feel like until the leadership really changes—and it’s hard for me to see how Kim Jong-un would change, but obviously, God can do anything. The hearts of the leaders and the nations are in his hands—but until there’s great, large-scale change that’s open to free thought and religious freedom, then I feel like, again, like we’re not going to see great change in North Korea until that happens.”
How to respond
There’s a lot up in the air right now. As we’ve mentioned before, talks about human rights could become a sticky subject between the United States and North Korea, if it’s brought up at all. Furthermore, there’s no telling what will take place between now and the proposed June 12 meeting.
Kenna says the best way to respond is with prayer. Open Doors has been able to communicate with believers in North Korea.
“They’re blown away by the fact that there’s a worldwide Church that is praying for them. And so they’re so isolated, they don’t know, often times, what’s happening on the world-scale and the freedoms all of us experience. And so the fact that we are praying for them is an incredible encouragement that brings them hope.”
(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)
We can pray for these believers to have courage and perseverance, and that religious freedom would become possible.
“We also pray that they would just hold onto the anchor that they have in Christ, in the midst of harsh and extreme conditions, as believers. And that they would also be bold and not shrink back, so that they would still look for those ways to spread the Gospel.”
And as we pray for them and hear their stories, Kenna reminds us that these believers are praying for the global Church, too. It’s important to continue to learn about them and to be burdened by their burdens so that we can learn more about what it means to be one Church that stands together with each of its members.
Finally, you can pray for the upcoming meeting—that if it happens it is a successful meeting that will make inroads to the human rights issues.
Dee Abbateremembers feeling helpless for years as she watched news reports from the civil war in Syria and the growing refugee crisis in the Middle East. The images and video footage of children affected by the violence broke her heart over and over.
“I was very affected by a photograph I saw of injured children in Syria,” says Dee, 76, an artist from Oakwood Hills, Illinois, about an hour northwest of Chicago. “It really troubled me. But I kept telling myself, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it.’”
That all changed about a year and a half ago when Dee organized a group of artist friends to paint portraits of Syrian children caught up in the refugee crisis. They call it, Painting Syria’s Children: The Refugee Portrait Project. So far, the group has been featured in seven gallery showings and generated about $12,000 in sales, which it gives directly to World Vision and a few other charities. The group started with only a few people. Now the group consists of 23 artists.
“All of a sudden, all these people were joining, and it was wonderful,” says Diane Ward, 66, Dee’s close friend who helped start the group. “It was just like a little miracle.”
Dee found inspiration to be part of the project from a woman on a televised talent show who shared her story of adopting two Syrian children. She had always wanted to help. But the voice in her head changed from apathetic to hopeful.
“It became, ‘What can I do as an artist?” she says. “That’s what I asked myself. The answer came that I could paint children.”
So Dee started searching for charities involved in the refugee crisis that would let her use their photos of Syrian children for inspiration for her paintings.
“The first one to say I could use the photos was (photographer) Jon Warren of World Vision,” Dee says. “If it wasn’t for Jon, I think I would have given up.”
Since then, the artists have painted dozens of portraits from World Vision photos and from a few other organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Act for Peace. This endeavor has been an outlet for many of the artists, who share a desire to help others through their craft.
“I think people feel helpless. You sit there and think, ‘What can I do?’” Diane says.
But now, “They could say to themselves, ‘This is what I can do,’” Dee says. “That’s what is so wonderful about the project.”
Dee says that group members paint the photos that resonate most with them.
“You find a child whose photo speaks to you — just like when you meet people, you know them immediately. A portrait is not just the art — it’s your response to the person,” Dee says. “We feel an attachment to that child and start caring about that child. There’s spiritual qualities expressed in that face, in their eyes.”
Diane says that the empathy the group members feel drives them to continue painting.
“We just look at these children and think, ‘Oh my gosh, these kids could be our kids.’ What parent wants to see them go through this?” Diane says. “Once you see a child’s eyes, your heart just kind of melts for them. No matter what religion, nationality, whatever — your family is something you cherish. [We] want to use talents to help these kids. We pray for them while we’re painting. They feel forgotten by the rest of the world.”
The group has another exhibit scheduled for September 2018 and encourages others to use their gifts and skills to bless others.
“Everyone can find a way to help. We all were gifted with something,” Dee says. “Find a way to use our talent or career skills to make life possible for others. It’s a way to return the gift, or pass it on.”
Since Aug. 25, 2017, about 700,000 people from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh because of extreme violence in northern Rakhine state, on the country’s western Bay of Bengal coast. Most of the Myanmar refugees identify as Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group, in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Flooding into camps near the town of Cox’s Bazar, they joined more than 200,000 people who escaped to Bangladesh years earlier.
Aid agencies are struggling to adequately serve 1.3 million people who are dependent on aid, including those in local communities. Monsoon rains and the likelihood of cyclones from April to October threaten the lives of refugee families in the squalid, overcrowded camps, including almost half a million children. Many refugees brought little with them and are dependent on humanitarian aid for shelter, food, clothing, and healthcare. During the monsoon season, they face possible floods and landslides as well as disease outbreaks due to poor sanitation.
History of the Rohingya refugees
1948: After Burma’s independence from British rule, a Muslim rebellion erupts in Rakhine state, with people demanding equal rights and an autonomous area. The rebellion is eventually defeated.
1962: Military rule begins in Burma.
1977 to 1978: Some 200,000 ethnic Muslims identifying as Rohingya flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh.
1982: A new citizenship law identifies 135 national ethnic groups, excluding the Rohingya, effectively rendering them stateless.
1989 to 1991: A military crackdown follows a popular uprising. Burma is renamed Myanmar. An additional 250,000 refugees flee to Bangladesh.
1992: The Myanmar and Bangladesh governments agree to repatriate refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people return to Myanmar over several years.
2012: Religious violence flares in Rakhine, leaving many people homeless. More than 100,000 people flee to Malaysia.
2014: In Myanmar’s first census in 30 years, the Rohingya are still not included as an ethnic group.
2016: Military action follows an attack on a border post in which police offers were killed. During the crackdown, about 87,000 people fled to Bangladesh.
2017: Escalated violence
August: Violence increases in Rakhine state among ethnic groups and Myanmar military forces, triggering a massive exodus of people to Bangladesh.
September: The U.N. refugee agency declares the Myanmar refugee crisis to be a major emergency and scales up its response.
October: More than 600,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh.
November: Myanmar and Bangladesh agree to start repatriating refugees within the next two months.
2018: Facing insecurity
January: The agreed start date for repatriation passes without action.
April: U.N. Security Council envoys visit Myanmar and Bangladesh to observe needs and conditions.
April to October: Monsoon and cyclone seasons increase hazards for refugees living in stick-and-bamboo tents in camps.
World Vision’s work in Myanmar and Bangladesh
World Vision has served in Bangladesh since 1970. Early efforts mainly focused on disaster response following a cyclone in the coastal regions. Today, World Vision directly reaches about 5 million children and adults through sponsorship and other programs.
In Myanmar, World Vision began operations in 1991. Child-focused programs help families with health, livelihoods, education and child protection, including reintegration support for trafficked returnees and released former child soldiers.
World Vision has served more than 178,000 refugees in Bangladesh since the crisis began in September 2017.
Shelter kits and household items were distributed that include tarpaulins, rope, blankets, mats, and kitchen sets.
Food packages were distributed to 135,250 people.
Nutrition services screened more than 12,000 children under age 5 for acute malnutrition. More than 11,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women received counseling on hygiene and learned about best nutrition practices for infants and young children.
Water and sanitation services include installing 54 deep-tube wells that furnish clean water for 54,000 people and constructing more than 1,300 latrines benefitting 67,000 people. World Vision has also provided jerry cans, hygiene kits, and water purification tablets.
FAQs: What you need to know about Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh
Explore frequently asked questions about the Rohingya people, why they are fleeing Myanmar, and learn how you can help Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh.
The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees describes the Myanmar refugee crisis as “the most urgent refugee emergency in the world.” Here are facts you need to know:
Of nearly 900,000 Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh camps and settlements, about 700,000 have arrived since August 2017.
About 1.3 million people — both refugees and local community members — need humanitarian aid because of the crisis.
From April through October, heavy monsoon rains and possible cyclones will pound the overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Myanmar and Bangladesh governments are still negotiating terms for families to be repatriated to Myanmar. Realistically, this may take years. In the meantime, children and their families are living in unhealthy, dangerous conditions with limited access to basic services.
The Rohingya people belong to a Muslim ethnic minority group of about one million people in Myanmar, which has a total population of 52 million. They live in the country’s northern Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh and India. The Rohingya were not among the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups included in Myanmar’s 2014 census. Essentially stateless, the Rohingya consider themselves under threat, without recourse to legal redress.
Armed conflict between minority groups and government military forces has gone on for decades in Myanmar. It accelerated significantly in August 2017 in Rakhine state, causing more Rohingya people and others to flee. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the situation to the Security Council in September as “the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”
Refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladeshi camps are suffering from psycho-social conditions and physical illnesses that spread easily in overcrowded, unhygienic camps. With such a high concentration of people, any disease outbreak has the potential to kill thousands.
Diarrhea, acute jaundice syndrome, and respiratory infections are common in both adults and children. Acute watery diarrhea is especially dangerous in combination with malnutrition, which is rampant among the refugee population. Less than three percent of refugees were immunized in Myanmar, so they are highly vulnerable to preventable diseases such as measles.
Families receive basic food supplies from U.N. agencies and NGOs. About 12,200 metric tons of are needed each month to sustain the refugee population in Bangladesh. Basic food distributions include rice, lentils, and oil. It is difficult to eat the same thing day-in and day-out, but families don’t have the money to buy fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement their diets.
What dangers are refugee children facing during the monsoon season?
Refugee children are generally at high risk of disease and malnutrition, physical harm and violence. During the monsoon season, conditions could get much worse. Here are some of the hazards they face:
Disease outbreaks: The World Health Organization has reported outbreaks of measles and diphtheria among children under age 5.
Malnutrition: With malnutrition rates at acute emergency levels, any outbreak of disease could quickly claim the lives of thousands of malnourished children. According to the Inter-Sector Coordination Group’s report, about 39,000 children under age 5 need treatment for severe acute malnutrition and about 118,000 children need treatment for moderate acute malnutrition. This situation may worsen as aid agencies struggle to get food into the camps when the few main access roads flood.
Physical danger: Children face increased physical danger when the monsoons arrive due to flash floods and landslides that could cause their makeshift shelters to collapse. At least 100,000 people are in grave danger of landslides and floods, which could damage one quarter of washrooms, latrines, and nearly half of current sources of water from tube wells, as well as other essential services such as classrooms, nutrition centers, and almost one-third of health clinics.
Violence, especially against women and girls: Extreme poverty increases the vulnerability of women and girls to violence, especially as refugees from Myanmar have no legal status in Bangladesh. This makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse. There are reports of women and girls being forced into prostitution. They are also resorting to survival sex in exchange for food and services. Risks of child labor and child marriage are high. Many adolescent girls over the age of 12 are married. For many families, child marriage is a coping mechanism that they hope will protect girls from assault and give them better access to food aid.
There’s nothing more essential to life on Earth than water. Yet, from Cape Town to Flint, Michigan, and from rural, sub-Saharan Africa to Asia’s teeming megacities, there’s a global water crisis. People are struggling to access the quantity and quality of water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, handwashing, and growing their food.
Amazing progress has been made in making clean drinking water accessible to 2.6 billion people in developing countries from 1990 to 2015. Yet there are still many opportunities to multiply the benefits of clean water through improved sanitation and hygiene education.
The United Nations recognizes the importance of addressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22.
Globally, 844 million people lack access to clean water. Without clean, easily accessible water, families and communities are locked in poverty for generations. Children drop out of school and parents struggle to make a living.
Women and children are worst affected — children because they are more vulnerable to diseases of dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day.
Access to clean water changes everything; it’s a stepping-stone to development. When people gain access to clean water, they are better able to practice good hygiene and sanitation. Children enjoy good health and are more likely to attend school. Parents put aside their worries about water-related diseases and lack of access to clean water. Instead, they can water crops and livestock and diversify their incomes. Communities no longer vie for rights to a waterhole.
Milestones of the global water crisis
1700s to 1800s: Industrialization leads to increased urbanization in England, highlighting the need for clean water supplies and sanitation.
2000: The U.N. member states set Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for development progress, including a 2015 target to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
2003: UN-Water was founded as coordinating platform for issues of sanitation and fresh water access.
2005: Thirty-five percent of the global population experiences chronic water shortages, up from 9 percent in 1960.
2005 to 2015: U.N. member states prioritize water and sanitation development during International Decade for Action “Water for Life.”
2008: The U.N.-recognized International Year of Sanitation prioritizes health and dignity.
2010: The MDGs clean water access target is achieved five years ahead of schedule. More than 2 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. The U.N. General Assembly recognizes the right of each person to have adequate supplies of water for personal and domestic use that are physically accessible, equitably distributed, safe, and affordable.
2013: The U.N. designates Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day to highlight the global issue that billions of people still do not have access to proper sanitation.
2015: About 2.6 billion people have gained access to clean water in last 25 years, and about 1.4 billion gained basic access to sanitation since 2000. The U.N. member states sign on to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—successors to the MDGs, that promise clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
2018: Worldwide, 2.1 billion people still live without safe drinking water in their homes and more than 1 billion people still have no choice but to defecate outside.
World Vision’s water work
World Vision is the leading humanitarian provider of clean drinking water in the developing world. We focus on bringing water to the extremely poor — including those with disabilities — in rural areas with the greatest disease burden. More than 700 World Vision water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals and thousands of development professionals live and work in communities worldwide to co-create solutions that last.
World Vision’s work results in water that continues to flow. We invest an average of 15 years in a community, cultivating local ownership and training locals to manage and maintain water points. An independent study by The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, one of the premier academic groups in water research, examined 1,470 water sources in 520 communities located in the Greater Afram Plains region of Ghana. The report of their research, published in 2015, showed that nearly 80 percent of wells drilled by World Vision continued to function at high levels even after 20 years, thanks largely to our community engagement model.
World Vision believes we can solve the global water crisis within our lifetimes. Our efforts include:
Drilling, developing, and repairing wells and other vital water points
Teaching local community members how to keep water flowing
Overseeing the building of latrines and hand-washing facilities
Promoting healthy hygiene practices through education and behavior change programming.
Timeline of World Vision’s water work
1960s: World Vision begins small water projects
1980s: Severe droughts in Africa focus the world’s attention on the urgent need for water.
1985: World Vision begins water drilling projects in Ghana.
1990s: Increasing commitment to clean water
1990: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation partners in the Ghana water effort.
2000s: Scaling up water work
2003: West Africa Water Initiative extends drilling into Mali and Niger.
2005: West Africa’s 2,000th well is drilled in Ghana.
2013: Drilling begins in India. World Vision and Procter & Gamble (P&G) partnership has provided 1 billion liters of purified water.
2014: University of North Carolina study reveals nearly 80 percent of World Vision wells in Ghana function at high levels, even after 20 years. 1,000th productive well is drilled in Mali. In December, the U.S. Congress passes Water for the World Act, prioritizing the provision of clean water and sanitation for the world’s most vulnerable people. World Vision starts reaching one person every 30 seconds with clean water.
2016: World Vision expands WASH work into more countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, along with the Middle East. We reach 4.6 million new people with clean water.
2017: World Vision now reaches one new person every 10 seconds with clean water.
2018 to 2030: World Vision sets ambitious goals for global water work
2020: 20 million new people served with clean water
2022: Clean water made available for everyone, everywhere we work in Rwanda.
2030: 50 million people — everyone, everywhere we work — have access to clean water and sanitation.
You can help bring clean water to families in need as a supporter of World Vision. Over the last five years, we reached more than 14 million people with clean water. Our goals for the future are even more ambitious, but achievable, with your help.
Pray: Ask God to pour his blessings out on families in need of clean water.
Give: Help provide clean water for children and families.
Run or walk in the Global 6K for Water May 19 to bring clean water to children around the world, or make a long-term commitment to join Team World Vision in the race to bring clean water and the opportunity for fullness of life to children around the world.
What are the benefits of water, sanitation, and hygiene for children and families?
An investment in clean water, combined with basic sanitation and hygiene education, is one of the most effective ways to improve lives and fight extreme poverty. The benefits include:
Families become healthier: Water, sanitation, and hygiene programs work together to powerfully prevent the spread of most illnesses, and are one of the most effective ways to reduce child deaths.
Children are better nourished: Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene help kids grow taller, smarter, and stronger. They get more nutrition from the food they eat because they are not sick. Families are able to use water to irrigate gardens for more nutritious food year-round.
Children can attend and excel in school: When children don’t have to walk long distances to get water, they have more time to attend school and more energy to learn. This is especially important for girls, who most often collect water for the family.
Family income improves: Families spend less money on healthcare and are better able pay for things like school supplies and fees. Water also is used for income-generating activities like making soap, bricks, and shea butter, as well as watering livestock and gardens.
Why do you combine clean water with sanitation and hygiene? What is WASH?
Providing hygiene education and sanitation facilities, such as latrines and hand-washing stations, multiplies the health benefits of clean water by helping to reduce the spread of illness and disease. In fact, handwashing alone has been shown to result in children growing taller, stronger, and smarter. So intertwined are the issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene that they have been combined into one sector known in the global aid community as WASH.
How are women and girls affected by lack of clean water?
Women and girls bear the greatest burden because in the developing world they are most likely to be responsible for hauling water to their homes. They spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water every day. The average African woman walks 6 kilometers to haul 40 pounds of water each day. This daily grind saps her energy for other activities and robs her of the opportunity to spend this time with her family, or pursue school and income activities to improve their lives.
Girls who attend school until adolescence are more likely to drop out when they start menstruating unless their school has clean water, latrines, sanitary supplies, and hygiene training. Helping young women to manage menstrual health is not just about providing appropriate facilities, but also includes addressing social norms.
At childbirth, lack of sanitation, clean water, and proper hygiene contribute to high rates of disease and death among mothers and newborns in the developing world. World Vision is accelerating its push to bring clean water, latrines, and hand-washing facilities to more health clinics to assure safer deliveries.
How much does it cost to bring clean water to one person?
Our average cost for World Vision to bring clean water to one person in Africa is $50. But this price actually includes much more than just clean water. It also includes the costs involved to ensure that a well or water point is maintained so it will last for generations. Also, by leveraging other resources, such as child sponsorship and local funds, each person who benefits from clean water is also trained and equipped to practice safe sanitation and hygiene.
What is World Vision’s 2030 goal for its water programs? Is it achievable?
World Vision’s goal is that by 2030 all communities located within our development areas worldwide will have access to safe water (defined as a 30-minute or less round-trip walk to the water source), adequate sanitation, hand-washing facilities, and menstrual hygiene facilities, as well as hygiene promotion and behavior change.
The global WASH program will specifically promote the inclusion of the most vulnerable men, women, and children. It will ensure that people with disabilities, those affected by HIV and AIDS, and other vulnerable groups in each area are actively included and benefit from hygiene messaging and increased access to sustainable safe water and improved sanitation.
We believe through partnering with local governments, communities, and other humanitarian organizations, collectively we can help achieve this goal based on what’s been achieved over the last five years — we reached more than 14 million people with clean water.
Mike Weaver never wanted to be a world traveler. He was content touring the U.S. as the lead singer for the popular Christian band Big Daddy Weave.
But growing up, his parents sponsored children around the world, so when World Vision invited him and the band overseas to see the work firsthand, he was hesitant but open.
“When I began to travel, I began to associate faces with the work, and I’m haunted by these faces in the best way. I feel like I’ve seen the face of Jesus in these faces,” Mike says. “I see the effect of the work in the faces of children all over the world that we have met, and I feel the importance of Big Daddy Weave in this is to be ambassadors for those little faces, to put those faces in the way of people in America.”
Mike and his wife, Kandice, are passionate about child sponsorship — they sponsor five children, and the band has gotten nearly 30,000 children sponsored at its concerts. World Vision recently spoke with Mike about sponsorship, how he came to be a world traveler, and how that impacts him today.
What stood out most to you when you began seeing World Vision’s work?
On our first trip to Ecuador in 2007, we were at 13,000 feet in elevation, and I said, “Wow, there’s a lot of fog,” and they said, “No, we’re in the clouds.” I’ll never forget the kids who came to greet us. We met at a school. These little kids came poking through the clouds, and we called them the faces in the clouds. World Vision had put in a school for kids who had never gone to school. It was opening doors that no one in their culture had ever opened to them. It was the love of God in the form of a school on top of a mountain.
Our second trip was to Africa, and I remember sweating the entire time. We showed up in Tanzania, and it was not the most impressive field of corn I had ever seen, but when I found out that no one had ever grown anything there before, it rocked me. These farmers were so excited to share with us how World Vision had helped them get water to this piece of desert, and now they can feed their families because of this piece of dirt. That corn was the love of God coming out of the ground.
When was the moment that you really wanted to travel abroad?
I became a world traveler in 2012 when I met the first child my family had sponsored; his name is Babayetu. God just did a thing in my heart, and I loved him. Those hours I had with him, we didn’t need a translator. We were smiling and holding hands, and he was showing me where he lived. They don’t have very much, but they threw us a party. I fell in love with him and his family.
I’m listening to all the other kids, and nobody is calling him by his name, and I was bummed because I love that name. It made my name seem super boring. Instead of calling him Babayetu, they were calling him Boniface. I don’t care what continent you’re on, that sounded like name-calling. So I asked the translator.
She found out that Boniface was the name he was given after he received Jesus. Because of their interaction with World Vision, he decided to make Jesus the Lord of his life. When they baptized him and brought him out of the water, they gave him a new name — Boniface, which means a better ending, a happier ending. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” That was the moment I became a world traveler. Until then, I knew it was important, but I had no idea the sense of urgency with it.
We were about to leave and Babayetu came up to me, and he has tears in his eyes but he’s holding it together — there’s a manly thing in Maasai culture, and the boys are supposed to be tough. The translator is with us, and he speaks directly to me and translates, “This has been a happy day. When are you coming to see me again?”
Then I’m messed up, and I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been to Africa, and I don’t know when I’m coming back again, but I promise you this, because this has been a happy day for me too, when I get back to America, I will tell every person I know about you and the chance we have to be a part of people’s lives like yours.” Then the band started asking, “Where are we going to go next?”
Where did you go next?
We wanted to see World Vision fight sex trafficking, so we went to Cambodia, and we felt the pain of Cambodia. We walked around the Cambodian Killing Fields. There are literally shallow graves and skeletons coming out of the ground because the killing was absolutely brutal. My brother said, “It’s like the earth is screaming.” There was a genocide museum, and they have pictures, and I couldn’t finish the tour. I remember leaving and sitting on a stump outside just trying to imagine and understand how people can do this to other people.
We saw all kinds of stuff with World Vision, but what I remember the most is visiting kids that live in the trash. They are treated like the trash they live in by their culture, and nobody misses them when they disappear into human trafficking. We showed up, and it was snack time. The kids were all excited, and they’re all shocked by the size of me — they’re looking at me like they had seen Godzilla — but I’d smile, and they’d know it’s all good.
We started playing games, and you’d think we had brought Disney World to them. They’re so starved for someone to take care of them. They’re so starved for someone to pay attention to them — and that’s how the traffickers can get to them so easily.
Our friends from World Vision are everywhere in that town. Every night in Phnom Penh, they’re somewhere telling stories and bringing snacks. World Vision is telling them, “You’re not trash because you live in the trash. You’re very precious. But there are people who want to take you away to a life that’s not good for you, and this is how you look out for that.” It’s teaching them to be street smart. They’re being the love of God to these kids.
When you see such suffering like you did in Cambodia, how do you process that?
I don’t know how to process all of it, honestly. Something I brought back from Cambodia was just hurt. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and I’d sit downstairs, and it dawned on me at one point what the hurt is, what the uncomfortable is — it’s God’s pain. I’ve sat in my living room in the middle of the night when my time is messed up from traveling and cried my guts out, and said, “God I’ll cry with you.” I cried with God in my living room and hurt with him because he hurts for this. He’s God, and he could snap his fingers, and it could all be gone, but there’s a way of seeing things he’s carrying out.
We have a huge privilege to represent the poorest of the poor to the body of Jesus in America and to try to make it real for them the way that people hurt around the world and to learn how to be a voice for them. It’s a giant privilege for me, and it’s a huge honor.
How do you talk about hard topics like child protection with your own children?
We speak in general terms with them. My son Eli is 10 years old — he can understand some things his 6-year-old sister can’t. And he’s ready to now, so as he’s able, we introduce him to some of the harder things. We talk about slavery; we don’t talk about sexual exploitation. He can understand “slave” because he’s studied the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln is one of his favorite presidents because he helped abolish slavery, so he can understand slavery, but he can’t understand some of the things with it. As the Lord opens doors for that, we love to speak into that, but as far as our kids go, we keep it general, and they have a sense that we’re helping this child on the sponsorship packet. That’s how we look at it — we’re praying for this one.
You recently saw child protection work in a different context in Armenia, so what was that like?
We heard about this very cold place where people who had stoves in their houses were dying because they didn’t have the money to heat their houses. So we went.
We met this little guy named Gagik. He is a member of a family of six. The family lives in a storage container. I remember standing outside this storage container in this blizzard, saying, “Who lives like this?” Many of the dads in Armenia leave the country to find a job. Many of them never come back. Gagik’s dad had stayed there, but it made it really hard to provide. It’s never enough. His mom has a degree to teach biology, but it would take a year to save up enough money — a year’s salary is $4,000 — to bribe somebody for a job because [the system] is crooked. But Gagik has a condition that causes his brain to swell, and they had to take out a $2,000 loan to get treatment that’s only a temporary fix.
They have no idea how they’ll pay it back, and they’ll have to do it again, but they’re all smiling because we came to visit them. They were so hospitable. It was unreal. The story didn’t have a happy ending. You feel the tension. Now we get to share that with people every night. I’ll say, “Where’s the hope in this story? There’s hope in all these other stories. The hope is you — I’m looking at the hope, and it’s you.”
Thoughts from dummer Brian Beihl
Big Daddy Weave’s drummer Brian Beihl also spoke with us about his experiences traveling to see World Vision’s work.
“The thing I really like about World Vision is they don’t go into an area and just start doing something,” Brian says. “They find out what that area really needs and what they can do to help that.”
He shared more about his experience in Armenia in December 2017.
What did you learn on your trip to Armenia?
We got to see how World Vision is helping empower families. In Armenia, they traditionally favor the male children to carry on the family name, work, and make money. For so long, they’ve had that mindset that male children are preferred. We got to see how World Vision helps incorporate the whole family and is helping to change families’ mentality.
Who most stood out to you that you met in Armenia?
We met a guy who has this beehive honey business, and he does bee therapy, which I’ve never heard of before. It’s an outdoor shed-looking thing and has windows, and there are benches inside. They put the beehives in there, and you go in and sit, and the sound and the pollen they generate from flying around is supposed to calm you. He’ll sell hives to people, so they have a way to make money by making and selling honey. It was cool to see him taking this and making it into a business.
Then there was a lady named Hermine. She’s trying to support her family on the little income she has. It blows my mind — her monthly salary is $100 and it’s taken everything she’s making to support her kids and pay rent for her house. To see the hurt she had to go through, and her husband leaving to go find work and not coming back, it’s hard. World Vision helped her find a job working as a beautician.
How did God work in you on the trip?
No matter what we go through, no matter the hardships, it’s always keeping our eyes on him. He ultimately is our provider for everything. He provided everything through his Son. For me, it’s knowing that he will provide what they need, allowing them to know who Jesus is and accept Christ. Much of the country is Christian — it was the first Christian nation — so their reliance is on Christ, even in dealing with corrupt government officials and the past communist regime. Through that, God makes a way and will provide. He always does. It may not be on our time frame, but he’ll do it.
How does all of this impact how you interact with people on the tour?
We see a lot of hurting people out here on the road. Every night when we’re doing our shows, you see so much brokenness. It’s kind of crazy because we have this mentality and culture that we’ve created here of “I can do this” — the self-this, self-that kind of thing. It’s having a reliance on Christ and just focusing in on him and showing people, “Hey, we’re not meant to do these things on our own.” We need his strength to provide for us. We need his strength to pick us up in times of trouble. We need his strength to carry us.
It’s been cool to share those moments with people and to see the light click that, “Hey, I don’t have to do this on my own — I can rely on him.” He wants us to call on him. It’s been great to share that with people and say, “You’re not alone. I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve dealt with that. I want to try to do things on my own, but I have to realize I can’t. I have to rely on him.”
How does that transformation then change others?
We have seen what World Vision does through sponsorship, getting those emails from World Vision saying, “Hey, just so you know, we’ve pulled out of an area because it’s now self-sustaining.” That’s because of people who have come to our shows and supported and sponsored those kids. They can say, “Wow! I was part of that! I helped with that!” Then they go and share that and spread it with others.
What conjures up your fondest childhood memories? Playing outside with friends late into warm summer evenings? The scent of freshly baked cookies? Performing in school plays? Reading your favorite bedtime stories with a loved one?
The memories are different for each of us, but most likely, they started with a caring parent or another adult — someone who loved you, affirmed you, and kept you safe.
These special people encouraged you to develop your skills and talents, to speak up, and to share your opinions. They weren’t perfect, but they knew they could turn to helpers — spiritual leaders, teachers, doctors, and nurses — to help ensure your journey to adulthood was healthy and life-giving.
This is why World Vision aims to equip parents, teachers, and church leaders in Armenia to nurture children. The ultimate goal is to protect childhood, allowing kids to be kids. That work begins before children are born—especially for girls, who, even in modern societies, can be unwanted.
Prenatal sex selection is one of the most widespread forms of gender-based violence in Armenia. World Vision’s child protection work continues through adolescence and young adulthood, meeting children at their current life stage with programs designed to create healthier environments and greater opportunities.
Changing attitudes about girls
Nearly 30 years after a devastating earthquake in Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city, some crumbled buildings remain. The rubble is a silent monument to the terrible destruction and loss of 25,000 lives.
But elsewhere, old stone buildings are being refurbished, turned into hotels or museums. High- rise apartment buildings dot the skyline. Rebuilt churches stand tall in the main square, a testament to the faith of this country’s people.
It’s in this city, this mix of old and new, that newlyweds Mikael Tutoyan, 23, and Gohar Avetisyan, 20, live.
For Mikael, their new life together has been filled with anxiety — particularly this morning, when he and Gohar had an ultrasound to learn the sex of their baby.
“I was impatient for that. I was expecting to have a boy,” says Mikael. “When she told us it was a girl, I felt like boiled water was on me. I was shocked.”
It wasn’t that he wouldn’t have eventually welcomed a girl into his family, but in Armenia, the societal pressure for a boy — especially as your firstborn — is high.
“It’s okay to have a girl child later,” says Mikael.
The United Nations Population Fund reports that, of all the girls conceived in Armenia, about 1,400 are not born each year. For such a small country — with a population of about 3 million and just over 40,000 babies born annually — this is considerable. Armenia is third among countries with the most highly skewed sex ratios at birth.
Only China and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor to the east, rank higher. The normal sex ratio at birth ranges from 102 to 106 males for every 100 females. But in Armenia, between 1993 and 2010, the ratio was 110 to 120 boys for every 100 girls.
Ironically, Mikael’s job as a social worker has him working with other families to change deeply ingrained gender biases — to advocate for the girl child. But the yearning to have a boy runs deep, even in this younger generation.
World Vision research also shows that Armenian men and women strongly emphasize the role of boys in carrying on the family name. Parents typically regard sons as assets, viewing males as breadwinners and caregivers for aging parents. Daughters are commonly viewed as liabilities who will leave the family after marriage.
The afternoon of the ultrasound, Mikael ran into fellow social worker and World Vision staff member Arpine Sargsyan, who could tell the results from his crestfallen expression. Rather than commiserating, though, she scolded him, saying he shouldn’t fall victim to societal pressures.
She then invited him to attend a World Vision Caring for Equality training session with Gohar. Over the span of 15 weeks, with the support of World Vision staff, couples and youth in this program examine their beliefs about gender and power. The workshops encourage shared decision-making by couples and look deeply at the ingrained bias favoring boys in Armenian culture.
One Caring for Equality session particularly rattled Mikael. Arpine talked to the group about the statistics in Armenia around prenatal sex selection and the bias against girl children.
“For me, that was something unrespectable … and unacceptable,” Mikael says. He began to think back to the neighborhood where he lived as a child. There was only one girl. Now he thinks he knows why.
Gohar is more empowered and outspoken as a result of the training. Before, she never talked to others about the value of women, but now she feels encouraged to speak out more and try to change others’ mindsets. And she wants to tear down gender walls.
“I would like my girl to become a police officer,” she says. “I would like this society to be open to that.” And Mikael? He’s had a change of heart about their pregnancy. He’s moved from the bitter disappointment of the ultrasound to a man now impatiently awaiting the arrival of a precious baby girl.
Raising healthy children
World Vision’s Go Baby Go! program offers parents nutritional and health-related training to ensure children receive the best care in their critical first years. The learnings don’t stop with physical health, though.
Many adults in rural Armenia subscribe to the belief that children are best seen and not heard, an idea that’s been passed from parent to child for generations. But World Vision is changing that view in its sponsorship communities.
Along with nutritional advice, World Vision staff teach parents child-rearing techniques that help them understand the value of engaging more with their children — learning how to listen and help them work through their problems.
Satenik Simonyan, 27, and her husband, Hovsep Mirzoyan, 37, are well equipped with these tools thanks to their participation in the Go Baby Go! program.
Satenik started with the program two years ago when World Vision offered it in Amasia in northwestern Armenia.
“I was interested in information they were going to provide because I had a small child, and I wanted to know how to engage him,” she says. That child was 5-year-old Mickael — a serious, quiet boy with an infrequent but winning smile.
World Vision invited fathers to participate in the program as another way to continue to change thinking about traditional gender roles. This is key because in rural communities, men see the daily care of children as women’s work.
Hovsep had recently returned from two years working in Russia. In this remote corner of Armenia, the harsh conditions and winters that stretch up to half a year limit agricultural work. A few fortunate men are hired for construction jobs, but many husbands migrate to Turkey or Russia in search of employment.
After working two years in Russia, Hovsep saw that he and Mickael acted more like neighbors than father and son. “I felt that wall that was between us,” he says. “At first I was getting angry more often.” The Go Baby Go! training came at the perfect time for him, since it happened as he was returning home.
New information changed his approach. “I’ve heard a lot of possibilities of other ways of interaction,” he says. One connection for Hovsep was sharing music with Mickael, which he has learned “helps his mental development.” Mickael loves to listen to a CD of his favorite music that his father created for him.
Hovsep and Satenik also learned other imagination-building techniques from World Vision staff — like the fact that when they read a fairy tale to Mickael, they can change it a bit each time.
They’ve also learned not to only lay down the law with Mickael, but to take time explaining rules and decisions. This helps build trust and understanding.
“Now we are paying attention to his opinion,” says Satenik. They see and treat him as an individual who deserves to be heard.
They must have been listening intently when young Mickael expressed his desire for brothers and sisters. Hovsep and Satenik soon learned they were expecting twin daughters.
But they got more than they expected.
One week before the babies were due, the couple got the news there was a third girl who’d been hidden during previous ultrasounds.
“We [were] very surprised,” says Hovsep. “We had one week to [adjust to] that idea.”
Luckily, they now have all the tools they’ve learned from Go Baby Go!, and they feel much more equipped for the challenges of suddenly raising four children.
Developing parenting skills
To create a loving environment for their children, parents need to also understand their own importance and feel understood. To enable this, World Vision helps religious leaders learn effective ways to support parents.
When apostolic priest Father Psak Mkrtchyan first came to Chambarak in eastern Armenia, he found people whose hope had crumbled due to war, depression, and the pain of poverty. Seven decades of communist rule had left many people cut off from their religious roots — the church.
In 2011, World Vision started working in Chambarak, and Father Psak found an ally with a mission similar to his own — to help struggling families.
World Vision’s Celebrating Families curriculum helped him do just that. First, it gave Father Psak and other priests the tools they needed to engage with vulnerable families. “I discovered the inner soft souls of the people,” he says.
The training allowed him to better understand the causes of families’ needs and conflicts. “[It is] a way to have glasses to look better on the family,” he says. Knowing they were seen and acknowledged helped Father Psak’s parishioners understand how important they are to him and to the World Vision staff.
One of the families he sought to help was Hermine Mkhitaryan and her three children. Hermine had lived with her husband and family in Yerevan until her husband went to Russia to find work.
Eight months later, she learned he wasn’t coming back. Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence. Men who have migrated for employment often abandon their families, leaving them without a much-needed father and financial support.
Hermine knew she couldn’t continue to pay rent on their Yerevan apartment, so she moved her family nearly 75 miles back home to Chambarak.
From the day Father Psak met Hermine and her three children, he understood their fragility. “I felt a pain, and then I always kept thinking, ‘How I can help this family?’” He told World Vision’s two social workers in the area about Hermine’s family and the struggles they faced.
For Hermine, Father Psak and World Vision’s staff were a lifeline.
“That was a very difficult time for me,” she says. “I felt a responsibility for three children, starting from everything — from coats to winter heating to send[ing] them to the schools.”
Her anxiety often resulted in anger toward her children — an anger that sometimes turned physical. But Hermine soaked up the care she received from the priest and the social workers. She appreciated having someone else to discuss her problems and seek solutions with.
She took the Celebrating Families training geared toward parents and learned ways to improve life for herself and her children.
“I must say that before I used to not listen to [my children],” Hermine says. “When they used to talk, I would say a rough word and interrupt them.” Now she’s learned how to encourage them to express themselves. She’s seen her children’s self-esteem blossom under this new approach.
Her daughter and oldest child, 12-year-old Tatev, has noticed the change in her mother. “I remember that before she was becoming angry very often. … There were many prohibited things for us before. Now I see the freedom,” she says. “The friendship is inside our relationship.”
Father Psak has great hopes for Hermine and other Celebrating Families parents. He sees them as pioneers who can pass on what they’ve learned to other families — giving more moms and dads a network of support in facing their struggles.
Pioneers is likewise a great word for the teenagers participating in World Vision’s IMPACT club in Amasia. These empowered teens speak out and engage in civic activities. The club, funded by child sponsorship, started two years ago. In that time, the youth have been able to practice public speaking and debating skills.
Their club setting may look like a typical classroom with modular desks in vivid reds, blues, and greens, but these passionate young people are anything but typical. They’re here to change their community and maybe even, one day, the world.
“I’m coming here to solve some problems. I wanted to be here to listen to what my peers are thinking about and study something new that I will never have in my school,” says 13-year-old Geghetsik Manukyan. “It will help me later to do good in my community and my whole nation.”
This is a huge step forward in a country where children were once discouraged from speaking out. “We believe that we are able to change something. If we don’t believe in that, we can never go forward and solve any type of issues,” says 16-year- old Tovmas Vardanyan.
Already these young people, ranging in age from 10 to 18, have improved lives for their neighbors in Amasia. They’ve organized a field trip for elderly community members, taking them to church and organizing a film viewing.
They cleaned up the area behind their classroom building and created a place to play for local children. And last year, they decorated a fir tree in the town square to provide more festive Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Ani Arakelyan, 14, says, “What I love most in the IMPACT club — here there is no wrong opinion.”
One of those opinions led to their current community project. One club member saw a painting of the universe on the internet and wanted to do something similar in the local school.
“We loved the idea. It was approved by the school and the other children,” says IMPACT club co-leader Lusine Arakelyan. Club members are now painting a mural of the universe on a wall in the school.
“It will help the schoolchildren to understand the universe and the planet Earth. [It] will orient them toward science,” says Narek Tutkhalyan, World Vision’s youth coordinator for the Shirak province, where the town of Amasia is located.
And it will encourage the growth of the club. Lusine adds, “They wanted to leave something from IMPACT in the school to attract other students.”
Building job skills
Armenia’s booming tech industry offers an opportunity to keep youth like these in Armenia instead of emigrating for work. Narek says there are nearly 3,000 information technology jobs available in Armenia, and he wants to prepare youth with the skills to get those jobs.
As part of World Vision’s youth projects in the area, he created a robotics club for teenagers, which started over a year ago thanks to a partnership between LEGO® and World Vision’s sponsorship program.
The teens meet in a room down the hall from the IMPACT club. As many as 26 of them fill the space, working in groups to offer ideas while one person types furiously.
It’s not all computer work. Some build car-like creations out of LEGO robotic components. Today’s assignment? To create a vehicle programmed to detect walls, then turn to avoid them.
Narek wants to help young people secure stable employment through this training. But he also wants the club to continue to break down gender barriers. He says, “It’s more accepted that boys do [IT work]. We want to show that’s not the way it should be. Girls should be involved.”
Anahit Harutyunyan, 16, joined the club when it opened last year. A couple from Arizona had been sponsoring her for a few years. She’d always loved to draw and would send letters and drawings to them. They responded, encouraging her to keep up with the artwork and to stay focused on her studies.
After watching the “Transformers” movies, she became interested in robotics. One of her favorite characters from the series is Optimus Prime, who leads the heroic Autobots and displays a strong sense of honor, justice, and moral courage.
When Anahit first started in the club, she was too shy to talk to others, but the instructor, Arsen Yayloyan, encouraged her to speak up. “We are all friends,” he told her. “Feel free to express your opinions.”
Her mother, Laura Tonoyan, has seen Anahit transform right before her eyes thanks to the robotics club.
“She’s become more joyful. Before she didn’t used to have contact with peers,” says Laura. “She’s become more active.”
In September 2017, Anahit and her team traveled to nearby Gyumri to participate in a robotics contest with their creation, a garbage-collecting robot. Five teams from around the region competed, but Anahit and the Amasia team took home the prize.
Anahit has blossomed not only in the robotics club but also in other areas of her life.
In October 2017, she participated in World Vision’s advocacy group.
The students identified a problem: Their computers didn’t work, so students couldn’t complete their lessons.
They discussed the issue with the mayor and the school director, who said they would help. Anahit, a formerly shy girl who could barely speak to her
classmates, went to Yerevan alongside other advocacy group members to seek assistance from a telecommunications company. The company promised to help by year’s end.
Anahit enjoys improving her community. “We’re already solving that problem. It makes me feel happy,” she says.
Like Optimus Prime, she’s fighting for justice and positive change. Meanwhile, World Vision is right there with her, working alongside parents, church leaders, and teachers to guard her childhood and that of her peers.
One day as adults, they’ll think back on happy childhood memories — time spent playing games and laughing with parents, working alongside friends and caring adult mentors to problem-solve, and expanding their vision for the future. Then they can pass that happy legacy on to their own children.
Many people are surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of superheroes. I see all the Marvel movies, and I love to troll through eBay looking for vintage superhero comic books to add to my collection.
This fascination started in my childhood when I was growing up feeling like an underdog. My dad was an alcoholic who went bankrupt twice. The bank foreclosed on our home, evicting us. My parents divorced. During those years, I felt deeply insecure, like I could never overcome the odds against me. To cope, I escaped into superhero comic books.
Superheroes had hot cars, cool suits, and powers that a vulnerable kid could only dream about: great strength, super speed, extrasensory powers, X-ray vision. Superheroes fought for underdogs like me, always winning out over the bad guys. The world was a better and safer place when they were around.
It didn’t escape my attention that several of these characters had difficult backgrounds. Spider-Man’s Peter Parker was an orphan and a weakling who was often bullied. As a child, Batman’s Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents’ murder. Steve Rogers, who became Captain America, suffered from childhood polio.
Despite their weakness and hardship, these guys became heroes. They were repurposed to fight evil and injustice. That happens in real life, too. But not by radioactive spider bites, special costumes, or science experiments — by God, the ultimate source of power in the universe.
People who are willing to serve our all-powerful God go through a “holy repurposing” as dramatic as that of the characters in my comic books. The Bible is full of examples: Moses, a condemned Hebrew baby, was repurposed to be the deliverer of Israel. David, a shepherd and the runt of his seven brothers, was repurposed to be a king.
Peter was a fisherman repurposed to be a fisher of men. Mary, a poor Jewish teenager, was repurposed as the mother of the Messiah. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, was repurposed as Paul, the proclaimer of the Good News.
God wants to repurpose every single person who has chosen to follow him. He repurposed me. He looked at my tough background and saw tools he could use.
That comic-book-loving kid from a broken home eventually became, as president of World Vision U.S., a champion for vulnerable children everywhere.
Sadly, there are many children in the world today who need someone to fight against the forces that imperil them: poverty, violence, exploitation, and discrimination.
This isn’t the work of Superman or Wonder Woman. It’s my job and your job. We’re the superheroes God wants to repurpose. If we’ve said “yes” to caring for the precious children he loves, he will infuse us with his power and turn our weakness into strength.
We can make the world a better, safer place for all children — no cape or spandex required.
Rich Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished.
With the wide variety of flowers grown in Chambarak, Armenia, the honey is sweet and an essential ingredient in scrumptious honey cake. Beekeeping is also helping lift families out of poverty as the honey provides income.
Recipe for honey cake
1 cup milk
1 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups walnuts
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Place 1 1/4 cup walnut pieces on a baking sheet and toast for 5 to 7 minutes. Cool.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the honey and eggs into the milk.
4. Add baking soda and mix. Set it aside.
5. Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl.
6. Toss cubed butter into the dry ingredients.
7. Mash the butter into the dry ingredients with your hands until it’s a more-or-less uniform, tan-colored crumbly mixture.
8. Add nutmeg to the crumbly mixture.
9. Pour 1/3 to 1/2 of this crumbly mixture into a 9″ spring-form pan. Press a crust out of it using your fingers and knuckles.
10. Set aside 1/2 cup of toasted walnut pieces. Once fairly cool, pulse the remaining walnuts in a food processor until uniformly fine.
11. Fold ground walnuts into your remaining crumbly mix.
12. Mix and stir the milk and honey in a separate bowl. Pour into the dry mix and mix well.
13. Pour the batter over the base in the spring-form pan. The batter will be very thin.
14. Gently sprinkle the remaining walnut pieces over the batter.
15. Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 to 50 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the top is a deep golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
16. Allow to cool in the pan, and then release and serve.
Intimate times with God are strategic to every believer’s faith journey. However, those times don’t just happen. We have to intentionally carve time out of our busy schedules. This summer, don’t let your spiritual life take a vacation. I want to invite you to join me in taking more time to have meaningful conversations with God through prayer, pondering the deeper meaning of Scripture as it applies to your life through meditation, and telling God how much you love and adore him!
Here are three invitations to help us make these moments more meaningful.
1. Walk and talk
“Just a closer walk with Thee. Grant it, Jesus, is my plea. Daily walking close to Thee. Let it be, dear Lord. Let it be.” This hymn from my childhood was always one of my favorites.
Every time we sang it, I could picture Jesus taking my hand and walking with me in a garden or on the beach. We were talking and laughing, and the conversation was two-way, which is exactly the way prayer is supposed to be! I speak. God listens. God speaks. I listen.
I have never forgotten that image, and I am often drawn to take Jesus’ hand and go for a walk. Somehow the physical act of getting outside, away from the normal hub-bub of life, helps me clear my mind and focus on his presence. My favorite place to walk is the beach. Yours might be a favorite park or hiking trail. A walk around the block will work as well. The important thing is to step out of the normal confines of your house or office and get outside where the sun can warm your face, and the beauty of nature can remind you of how big our God is. It’s amazing how small our problems appear when we realize we are talking to the Creator of the entire universe.
I am one of those people who likes to speak my prayers out loud and, in our world of iPhones and headsets, no one gives me a second look when they see me talking to my invisible Friend.
But our silent prayers reach God’s ears just as well. The important thing is to share your thoughts, concerns, and joys with your heavenly Father as you would your earthly father or a best friend. Then, when the words run out, don’t forget to listen.
Meditation is one of those words that can be off-putting at first because it has come to mean so many different things to different cultures and people. But to a child of God, meditating is focused on the Scriptures, prayerfully reflecting on what you have read and asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate your understanding, just as Jesus did with his disciples. We should then find ways to apply those deeper truths to our own life.
One suggestion I have found helpful when I’m meditating on God’s Word is to read a sentence out loud, putting the accent on a different word each time. For instance, Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” When I emphasize the words “not ashamed,” the sentence is a powerful statement of my intent to stand for Christ. But if I read it emphasizing the word “it,” the sentence becomes a declaration of the power of the Gospel to save men’s souls. And by emphasizing “everyone,” I discover another powerful truth — the Gospel is for everyone who simply believes.
Try this the next time you are reading the Bible, and see how new revelations and insights will pop off the page.
3. Say, “I love you”
I am not sure that we stop to think how desperately God yearns to hear those words from his children — not because he has answered a prayer or rained down some wonderful blessing, but just because he is.
As a mother, I know the joy I felt when one of my daughters snuggled up by me on the couch, gave me a spontaneous hug, or drew me a picture with “I love you, mommy” scrawled across the bottom in crayon. Those pictures went right up on the refrigerator and never failed to warm my heart and make me smile.
So, no matter how busy your summer may be, don’t forget to raise your arms toward heaven in praise and give God a hug!
Christian men helped me end a violent marriage. Their voices matter now more than ever.
A few weeks ago, Paige Patterson’s comments on domestic violence went public, setting off a Twitterstorm of condemnation and support. Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) women have since called for his resignation. For the many women who were willing to sign their names to the statement, there are dozens of others suffering in silence who will never come forward.
I know, because I was one of them.
I was raised as a Baptist pastor’s daughter in a small town in Indiana. I spent most of my youth sitting in the front pew, listening to my dad’s sermons. After graduating high school, I married my high school sweetheart, and together my husband and I continued to be active in my dad’s congregation. From the outside, we were part of a perfect, multi-generational Baptist family. Behind closed doors, however, I suffered physical, emotional and spiritual abuse at the hands of my husband.
After years of soul-crushing torture, I gained the courage to walk away from my marriage. We had tried multiple rounds of counseling, but the abuse was relentless. After crying out to God for help, I clearly felt him release me from my marriage, so with the loving support of my parents, I filed for divorce.
Soon after, I was called to a meeting with our church’s deacons, who informed me that I would undergo church discipline for my decision to divorce. One even said, “If you do this, God will never use you.” My ex-husband received no reprimand for the abuse, though he didn’t deny it. By contrast, I eventually had to withdraw my membership and move away, and my father was fired as the church’s pastor for his role in supporting me.
I would like to believe that my story is an anomaly. But these …
International (MNN) – The Barna Research study that showed 51 percent of evangelicals do not recognize the Great Commission-stirred ideas of issues in the Church.
“One of them is a sense of biblical illiteracy and people growing up in churches that are more in tune with the culture than they are with the principles of engagement that God has laid out in His Word,” says George Durance of TeachBeyond.
Change in the Church, No Change in Society
“It seems to me that maybe 20-30 years ago, we made a decision as evangelicals that we needed to become more relevant and more in touch with our culture as we saw our ideas and our subculture being moved to the margins and basically no longer respected.”
(Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash)
Durance points out evangelical churches began to get rid of pipe organs and became more relaxed in their dress codes. Music has since become more upbeat and sermons have felt more conversational.
Patheos released an article about the Church’s and ministries’ efforts to “engage the culture” by moving toward secularism in order to bring more people in.
“There was a real effort right across the evangelical Church to make some really clear statements to our culture that we still felt like we had something that we had to say and wanted to be loving our neighbor and in touch with our neighbor and this seemed to be the way to go.”
However, Durance says that a serious problem remains in the Church and it’s one of disrespect and marginalization. The Patheos article says this advancement of engaging the culture has failed because Christianity has been a sign of low status.
Further, despite the Church’s efforts to become more culturally progressive, movies, media, society, etc. continue to see and portray the Church in a negative light. Durance shares he recently watched a show that portrayed followers of Christ as unintelligent and unloving.
“Christians watch this and they’re horrified and their reaction is I really need to set the record straight. I need to dress better. I need to look cooler. And there’s a whole series of things that result when they see something like that,” Durance says.
And, he says, miracles have been purged from society. Retellings of miraculous historical events no longer include Christ.
“Anything that has to do with Christianity or faith is being carefully removed from the story, from the narrative, and again, after all the efforts that the evangelical Church has made, there’s still this marginalization. And so, is it because our attempt to engage has failed or is it because there is something else going on in the wider world?”
Durance says as an organization, he thinks TeachBeyond needs to be more careful, prayerful, and strategic in what they need to do and where they need to do it.
Four Elements to be Emphasized
Looking at individuals and in local schools, he says there are four elements that need to be emphasized.
“The first one is that I think our learners need to be introduced or have fostered in them, a sense of destiny, a sense of being called by God that He has a plan for them and that in that plan is going to be a way in which they uniquely contribute to this Great Commission… in the world that we live in.”
(Photo courtesy of TeachBeyond via Facebook)
The second idea to be emphasized is encouraging reflective thinking, healthy doubt, and skepticism about worldly beliefs. The third is nurturing a love for God’s Word and His world.
“The fourth thing has to do with a realism about what it means to be a follower of Christ. There’s going to be a time when we are ostracized. Somebody has said that 70 percent of the world, Christians around the world are in a form of persecution, and that’s the normal Christian experience all through the generations. And for us to think that we’re always going to be privileged, respected, appreciated is pretty naïve,” Durance says.
“We’re called to be faithful, but we’re not called to be respected as much as lies within us… Our need is to be walking faithfully before the Lord.”
Durance isn’t discouraged by the statistics Barna Research has released. Instead, he says there has never been a time before when the Church has seen youths with clear ideas and godly passion.
Pray students and young people in the Church will be aware where the line between culture and the Church is. Pray also that the Church would stand out from society, not blend into it.