Ebola update: the good, the bad, the ugly

Dr. Kent Brantly (Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse(

Dr. Kent Brantly
(Photo Courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

Int’l (MNN) — Just as there are two sides to every coin and every story, there are two parts to the latest Ebola update. As Ebola-infected patients recover in the U.S., a new development worsens the crisis in Liberia.

Ebola update: U.S.A.
First, the good news: Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol, medical missionaries who contracted Ebola in Liberia while working at a hospital managed by Serving In Missions (SIM), are well on their way to recovery.

“As my treatment continues in the isolation unit at Emory University Hospital, I am recovering in every way,” writes Brantly in a statement released by Samaritan’s Purse.

“I thank God for the healthcare team here who is giving me compassionate, world-class care. I am more grateful every day to the Lord for sparing my life and continuing to heal my body.”

Samaritan’s Purse is working closely together with SIM to fight the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All but essential personnel have been evacuated from the hospital, and Samaritan’s Purse is continuing to monitor missionaries’ health.

Photo Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse

(Photo Courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

Missionary David Writebol shared a similarly-positive update about his wife, Nancy, on SIM’s Web site.

“I have had the great joy to be able to look through the isolation room glass and see my beautiful wife again,” states Writebol. “She was standing with her radiant smile, happy beyond words. She is continuing to slowly gain strength, eager for the day when the barriers separating us are set aside, and we can simply hold each other.

“We prayed together over the intercom, praising our great and might God for His goodness to us.”

Ebola update: Liberia
While missionaries and their families celebrate in the U.S., Liberia’s latest Ebola update reflects a darker tone. At least 17 infected patients have reportedly left a health center and returned to their communities. In addition, supplies contaminated with the Ebola virus have been stolen by protestors, a senior police officer told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life,” he told BBC News. “All between the houses, you could see people fleeing with items looted from the patients.”

ebola

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Ebola is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person–blood, sweat, feces, or vomit. Eyewitnesses of the weekend attack told the Associated Press that items stolen from the hospital had bloodstains. However, no reports have confirmed that the stolen items were used by Ebola patients.

Residents of the capital city’s largest slum, West Point, reportedly broke into a health center over the weekend that contained quarantined Ebola patients. Over 30 people were being cared for at the time, and they all fled when the attack began. Yesterday, Liberia’s government confirmed that 17 patients are still missing.

Prayer needed
Keep praying for the Lord to be made known through this horrible Ebola outbreak. Pray for the safety of medical workers who are caring for Ebola patients. Pray that the next Ebola update will bring good news.

More on the Ebola crisis here.

From Mumbai to east India

Team members pray for villagers in east India.  (Image courtesy India Partners)

Team members pray for villagers in east India.
(Image courtesy India Partners)

India (MNN) — What can you do with a short-term missions team of only five people? A lot, says Kaytie Fiedler of India Partners. She shares the following short-term missions report from a recent two-week trip, one that journeyed from the red-light districts of Mumbai to the jungles of east India.

“We had a very full two weeks of ministry,” shares Fiedler. Her team of five provided three types of training to church workers: counseling, pastoral, and health training.

“God puts the right people together every time; I’ve never been disappointed. This trip, we had a grandmother who’s retired at 68 to a medical technician; so, a wide variety of people, but their hearts are so full of love for India and wanting to serve there.”

The following short-term missions report details major steps of their journey.

Week 1: Mumbai
For the first half of their short-term missions trip, Fiedler and the India Partners team spent time ministering in the red-light districts of Mumbai. There, the team met up with workers from the Sahaara Charitable Society, one of India Partners’ ministry cohorts.

“They have a number of people that work in the red-light areas, helping to reach women and children in the brothels,” explains Fiedler. “They have very little training to reach people like these, who are stuck in a really horrible position and not quite sure how to get out.”

India Partners' training sessions included times of prayer and encouragement.  (Image courtesy India Partners)

India Partners’ training sessions included times of prayer and encouragement.
(Image courtesy India Partners)

India Partners sends short-term teams twice a year to help train Sahaara’s workers.

“This training has done wonders for their group,” Fiedler shares. “They’re continuing to grow and understand more and more about how to work with traumatized people, and help them make better decisions about their future.”

Fiedler shares more highlights from the trip here.

“When they look at us as Americans, they think, ‘Gosh, these people have no troubles; they have all the money they could ever want; no one ever treats them poorly,'” explains Fiedler. “When we can share our personal journeys that include a lot of hurt and pain…that is where redemption starts.

“Seeing them grasp this message deeper and deeper each time is really a testament to how the Gospel is working.”

Week 2: East India
After a week of ministry in Mumbai, the team boarded a plane for east India. They held four days of conferences in a small jungle village for approximately 60 rural church workers. A couple of the days’ trainings centered on pastors, while another focused on women ministry leaders.

Church leaders were encouraged to view people as Jesus does.  (Image courtesy India Partners)

Church leaders were encouraged to view people as Jesus does.
(Image courtesy India Partners)

“What we want to do is train people to see others with the eyes of Jesus,” Fiedler explains.

“This made a lot of lights go on over the heads of people; they hadn’t really thought of the idea [before]. We even used the example of putting sunglasses on; ‘put your Jesus glasses on’ and see people the way God sees them.”

Where is God leading you?
Is God calling you to serve in India? Find ways to “go” with India Partners here, or call their office at (877) 874-6342.

“You’re just never ‘not qualified’; it doesn’t matter where you are in your spiritual walk, it doesn’t matter what kind of profession you have or don’t have, God wants to use you,” shares Fiedler.

“It’s amazing what God does when somebody says, ‘Yes, I want to go. Please use me Lord’ — He never disappoints; He always uses each person so uniquely. It’s very empowering and encouraging.”

Do you have a short-term missions report to share? Please include it in the Comments section below!

ISIS threatens Lebanon

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

Lebanon (MNN) — Who stands to benefit the most from chaos in Lebanon? Analysts have pointed out that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria benefits Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

How? The ISIS assault both scattered and pushed back opposition groups that are worrying the Syrian government. Hezbollah pushed ISIS back until they were forced into a confrontation with Syria’s rebels, according to the analysis provided by Abou Zeid of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, ISIS paraded captured Lebanese soldiers in a video to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam. The kidnapping, along with the incursions into Lebanon, challenge the government’s official stance of dissociation from the surrounding conflicts. SAT-7 USA’s Rex Rogers observes, “What we think the Lebanese have learned in 20 years of civil war was not to get drawn off with these factions. So far, I think the army’s done a pretty good job.”

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

Lebanon is filled with a diverse population, and with that multi-culturalism come both faction and ideology. The country has been resisting getting dragged into a proxy civil war in Syria, adds Rogers. “They recognize that they need to maintain territorial integrity, and they’re being supported by the various factions within the society–that’s good. From a specifically Christian perspective, Lebanon is very important for the Arab Christian world.”

However, the fact that ISIS has taken its campaign for conquest into Lebanon is a source of concern for groups like SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. Given everything documented over the ISIS rampage through Iraq, could those atrocities be repeated again in Lebanon?

Rogers says while the staff in Beirut is concerned, “We’re planning international management meetings, and even the dedication of the facility in November. At this point, we’re not overly concerned about that. There’s always something. You can’t promise people that nothing will ever happen.”

With a public event in the works like a studio dedication planned for November, doesn’t that make them a target for extremist groups like ISIS? It did in Iraq and Syria. Rogers demurs. “There may be more inconvenience than personal threat. But again, there’s always some concern about security issues. We’re aware of that, and we keep looking ahead. We’ll keep praying that the Lord will protect, and He has.”

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

(Photo courtesy SAT-7)

The programming staff is undaunted as they focus on the priority of keeping SAT-7 on the air. “It’s a matter of continually doing what we think is our work, which is the mission of sharing Christ and Christianity and that there is another way.” Why? Rogers explains, “It’s a matter of continually doing what we think is our work, which is the mission of sharing Christ and Christianity and that there is another way.”

In a potentially explosive situation, the unrelenting stress drives people to them because “we offer them music, and we offer them a respite. We offer them a ‘safe place to go,’ which is a phrase we use with our kids’ channel.”

Rogers ticks off three points in response to “How should believers respond to this story”:

1)      Pray for a peaceful resolution. Pray that the fighting will end.

2)      Give to help keep programming that provides hope and respite on the air.

3)      Go. The staff continues to provide platforms for people to talk about hard issues going on around them. Ask God to give them wisdom.

To underscore that last point, Rogers concludes his thoughts this way: “We sometimes say that SAT-7 is needed ‘now, more than ever.’ We think that ‘now, more than ever’ is a more compelling comment as you listen to the news, because for a lot of Christians in the Middle East, and a lot of non-believers who are seeking, this is the only source.”

Sign language in Mexico

Mexico (MNN) — Is sign language universal? Many folks think it is, but in reality, sign language is quite regional. There are many unifying factors to spoken languages: music, radio, television, movies, the internet, education, travel, and all kinds of printed matter, to name some of the major factors. Even so, spoken languages vary from region to region, which is evident when somebody from New England tries to converse in English with somebody from Great Britain!

“God”
(Photo Courtesy AMG International)

Sign Language, however, does not have as many unifying factors, making it far more regional than spoken language.

About 35 years ago when Ruth Lopez studied SEE (Signing Exact English) at a junior college in California, her professor predicted that SEE would eventually be universally used in the United States. She was wrong. Today ASL (American Sign Language) is by far the most prevalent form of sign language used throughout the USA.

“Mercy”
(Photo Courtesy AMG International)

LSM (Mexican Sign Language) will probably become the most prevalent sign language in Mexico, in much the same way as ASL in the USA. However, it’s not uncommon to see “Español Signado” (Signing Exact Spanish) on TV and at events. The government encourages interpreters to use “Español Signado,” but deaf people far prefer LSM.
At Dios es Amor School for Special Needs Students, AMG International uses LSM because they consider it to be the best way to communicate with their students. Clear communication is necessary in order to teach their students reading and writing and arithmetic, as well as God’s love. AMG also wants them to be able to express themselves freely, especially in prayer.

“Praise”
(Photo Courtesy AMG International)

Please pray that AMG will be able to effectively teach their deaf students to communicate in LSM and “Español Signado.”

Bibles, China, a challenge, and you

(Bibles For China)

(Bibles For China)

China (MNN) — Picture this: you arrive at a venue, and people are lined up on both sides of the street, cheering, waving, smiling, taking pictures, and reaching out to shake your hand as you pass.

What has just been described? You get three guesses to figure out who just arrived on the scene. Did you guess a famous musician? A celebrity? A world-famous athlete? While it happens for those people, the scene for this story is set on a much more humble stage.

If you are with a Bibles For China team, this is what greets you when you arrive at a local church in rural China. Chief Operating Officer Barry Werner is quick to note that the hoopla is less about the team and more about what’s coming. “It’s a spontaneous celebration the moment you arrive with a Bible. It’s God’s Word: the most precious thing they’re ever going to receive. They don’t want to miss one moment. Let the celebration and the praise begin!”

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

Bibles For China works at the invitation of the local Chinese Church to come in and not only celebrate what God is doing there, but also to help equip the believers with Bibles. No two distribution points are the same. When word gets out that a BFC team is on its way, people will walk all day to get to a church for their own copy. Then, they will wait for hours for the team to arrive. To them, what’s a few hours of waiting compared to a lifetime? Werner says their joy is overwhelming–contagious, even.

In a report from the May and July teams, Werner says at one pastor asked His people to spend some time in prayer thanking God for the gift of the Bible. “The people all began to pray softly, out loud. The pools of tears at their feet said more than any language barrier ever could stop. You could immediately sense the emotion of the people that had God’s Word in their hand after such a long time.”

Some areas are more rustic than others. The rigors of travel can be challenging. Poverty crushes the life out of some villages. Yet, Werner says, over and over, “They will be amazed, to some extent, almost awestruck by the poverty juxtaposed against the generosity of the people.” Sometimes, he notes, they’ll buy enough fruit to feed a village and offer it to their guests to honor them for sharing the hope of Christ through God’s Word.

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

The scarcity of Bibles in these rural areas is less due to availability and more due to accessibility. Even though hundreds of thousands of Bibles are available for purchase, the poorest of the poor can’t afford to buy one.

Providing thousands of Bibles to people who may have been waiting decades for a Bible tends to bridge a lot of language barriers. Werner says, “We forget about the relationship and the interpersonal reactions that can take place when we don’t speak the same language and we have no cultural background that’s anywhere similar; yet, because both of our hearts are cut for Christ, we share that moment.”

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

Here’s where you come in, Werner says. “We have an in-country partner that will match Bible for Bible, up to 10,000 Bibles, and they’re $5 apiece. So for anybody that helps with that, the impact is doubled.” BFC has been running the match all summer for the November trip. Right now, they still need 2000 Bibles to get the maximum on that match, but time is running out: September 1 is the last day of the the match. Click here to see how far your $5 goes.

Bibliotheca shows people want a fresh way to read the Bible

USA (IBS) — “Why is it that people love stories so much,” wonders Adam Lewis Greene, “yet they view reading biblical literature as a chore?”

The increasingly fragmented nature of media today–from the 30-second sound bites of politicians to 140-character rants on Twitter–hasn’t diminished the power of story. We love to get caught up in a sweeping narrative. Some of the highest-grossing film series of all time–Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia–are based on expansive literary works.

Yet, when it comes to the Bible, we have a much different experience. Most of us don’t get swept up in its unfolding drama. Few of us can imagine reading the Bible for hours on end and losing track of time because we were so engrossed in its story.

The conditions are clearly right…
Adam Lewis Greene is part of a growing chorus of voices asking whether the format of our modern Bible is part of the reason so many of us struggle to read it well. “Book design is often something we don’t think about,” he explains in a video on his Kickstarter page. “The book is actually doing work to eliminate distractions. It’s doing this to present the content in a way that is beautiful, inviting, and makes the story the center of the reader’s experience.”

Photo Courtesy Biblica

(Photo Courtesy Biblica)

This may be true when it comes to your typical book. But the Bible is anything but typical. At times, it feels as if distraction was built into our modern Bible on purpose. Our attention is constantly being pulled away from the text by a footnote here, a cross-reference there, or perhaps a study note at the bottom of the page. “We see a ton of text,” Adam laments. “It takes us forever to be able to turn a page.”

Is it any wonder most people find the Bible “dry and boring,” as Adam puts it, when its presentation feels more like an encyclopedia than a literary work of art?

It’s tempting to assume that’s just the way things are, so that’s the way they always must be. Indeed, many of the features added to our modern Bible over the years serve a valid purpose. They can be useful for finding things quickly, for looking up related passages, and for learning more about the meaning of a particular word or phrase. But not for reading big, not if we’re reading for distance or depth, which is arguably the most important thing we can do with the Bible.

If Adam Greene’s Kickstarter campaign has proved anything, it’s that a growing number of us are no longer willing to settle for the status quo when it comes to how we read the Bible.

Adam launched his campaign with hopes of raising $37,000 to create a small batch of high-quality, four-volume Bible sets without chapter and verse numbers. He reached his goal in just over 24 hours, and it kept growing from there. A month later, he’d raised $1.5 million dollars, almost entirely by word-of-mouth. “It is hard to say exactly what happened here,” Adam said in an interview with the Bible Design Blog. “Whatever the case, the conditions are clearly right for something like this.”

A taskforce on… typesetting
In 2003, Biblica set out on its own quest to rethink how the Bible is presented. We formed a small team of scholars, translators, designers, and typesetters, and called it the Bible Design Group. Their task was to come up with a more authentic Bible reading experience.
The result was The Books of the Bible, first published in 2007. The Books of the Bible and Bibliotheca are like one another in some respects. Both recognize the value of reading without chapters, verses, or other added features. Both prize literary beauty in their presentation of the text. Both experiment with the idea of a multi-volume Bible, publishing each major grouping of books as a standalone volume.

Photo Courtesy Bilica

(Photo Courtesy Biblica)

The Bible Design Group kept pushing. They took a hard look at the internal arrangement of the text as well. Does it really make sense, for example, to maintain the division between 1 and 2 Samuel–a division that was only introduced when the original Hebrew was translated into Greek and no longer fit onto a single scroll? Is “longest to shortest” the only way to arrange Paul’s letters? Once you’ve taken out chapter and verse numbers, is it possible to come up with an unobtrusive way to show the natural structure of each book?

The Books of the Bible pressed the reset button on much of the formatting that’s been introduced to the Bible over the years. It recombined books that were previously broken in two, like 1 and 2 Samuel. Luke and Acts, traditionally separated by John even though they were two volumes of a single work, were brought back together. Paul’s letters were presented in the order they were most likely written–which can make a huge difference when you’re trying to read them in light of his journey in the book of Acts.

The Bible Design Group also introduced line spacing to indicate the natural structure of each book. The bigger the space, the bigger the section break. Take Matthew, for example. It didn’t come to us in 28 chapters. Originally, the book was organized around five major speeches given by Jesus. Each new section began with some variation of the phrase, “When Jesus had finished saying these things….” The Bible Design Group took this into account, presenting the natural structure of Matthew (and the other books) in a way traditional chapter-and-verse Bibles can’t.

The Books of the Bible also became the basis for a reading campaign for churches, called Community Bible Experience. The goal? Transform the way churches read Scripture: to invite people to read the Bible less like a reference book and more like a story, as the divinely inspired literary work of art it is; to read and explore Scripture together without all the pressure or homework of a traditional Bible study.

Through Community Bible Experience, more than 500,000 people in 20+ countries have been introduced to The Books of the Bible and to a whole new way of reading Scripture.

With the success of Bibliotheca and the rise of new ways of reading Scripture like Community Bible Experience, one thing has become clear: people are ready for a fresh encounter with the Bible. And it just might start with a very different kind of Bible.

Ebola outbreak delays Mercy Ships deployment

Photo courtesy of Mercy Ships

(Photo courtesy of Mercy Ships)

West Africa (MNN) — The Ebola crisis is causing compound health concerns. Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in ports of West Africa. They provide health care months at a time from the basics to surgeries. However, they are unequipped to treat viral epidemics like Ebola.

President and founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, explains how the virus forced them to cancel a trip to Guinea where the sickness began showing up in April.

Mercy Ships set their sights on Benin next where no confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported.

But now, Stephens says, “We have delayed our departure to Africa.”

The team monitors the situation regularly to be certain they’re not sending their crew into danger.

“The safety of our crew is utmost, it’s paramount. We view that we have a pastoral protective role as well as serving and showing mercy as we follow the model of Jesus in the countries we serve,” Stephens says.

While they are making their decision, Mercy Ships is re-calibrating their propellers to make sure they are getting proper fuel usage.

Meanwhile, “All of our department heads are involved in meetings as we make the adjustments in protocols and service for when we do arrive in Africa,” Stephens says.

The work to get the ship to port and begin ministering to the people in the area is expansive.

Stephens says, “When we’re fully staffed, [we have] approximately 400 people on board from 40 nations with up to 60 children. So it’s like a beehive of activity with everyone having their specified job description.

“And one of the many beauties is everyone’s there for a common purpose. We’re there following the model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. And when you work shoulder to shoulder with others of a common vision, common purpose, it’s very wonderful.”

Photo courtesy of Mercy Ships

(Photo courtesy of Mercy Ships)

Stephens shares that their ministry is organized to minister to people in a similar way that Jesus did. Stephen’s explains one hand is for helping and the other is for proclaiming truth. “As we follow the model of Jesus, we bring hope and healing. Hope is the very nature of the Good News. That’s who we are, that’s why we exist. The healing is what happens in the wards or in the surgical room. So those two are linked together.”

It takes 18-24 months to plan out a deployment to a country.

“We begin collaborating and communicating with all of the mission hospitals, mission agencies, ministry of health, churches, church leaders, as we prepare to best serve the host nation when the ship arrives,” Stephens says.

Often the host government advertises the arrival to their people through pictures. Many people in target countries are illiterate.

But for now, Mercy Ships has to wait for the okay to drop anchor in Benin. And thousands on shore are waiting for medical help. But during the wait, there is something we all can be doing: pray. Pray that God will protect Mercy Ships, their crew, and those that they minister to. Pray that they would be able to head to Benin soon. Ask God to minister and prepare the hearts of those who are waiting for medical care.

Stephens adds to this: “Many of us, myself included, we want to pray, plus: ‘What else can we do?’ Sometimes praying is enough. Sometimes it’s only the beginning. So, the ‘what else’ everyone can do is: we can give. We can be part of the face of Jesus as these drugs and supplies are delivered.”

One of Stephens’ friends mentioned that Mercy Ships is in a situation like Daniel in the lion’s den. If Benin is where God leads Mercy Ships, He will be in control of their safety. He is the one who has power over all things.

And at the same time, He may choose to keep Mercy Ships out of Benin because of the danger.

“God didn’t have Daniel put his head in the lion’s mouth even though he was in the lion’s den,” Stephens says.

He says that Ebola is a game-changer, that it has been around for a long time. He says it will affect all of us and even show up in major U.S. cities. But Stephens is not scared. He is moved to act.

“I don’t subscribe to the panic and fear that’s in a lot of the news media. The medical science of Ebola is containable; we have drugs that are working. So, I would encourage the Body of Christ to have a measured, reasoned approach to Ebola.” Stephens also stresses showing compassion.

Mercy Ships has more information on how you can respond to the Ebola situation here.

Ukraine update: ministry continues despite rising violence

Please keep Ukraine in your prayers today! (Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)

Please keep Ukraine
in your prayers today!
(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba
via Facebook)

Ukraine (MNN) — It’s been a week full of developments in Ukraine, and it’s only halfway through! In this Ukraine update, Wally Kulakoff of Russian Ministries shares how ministry continues despite an uptick in violence.

Monday, August 18
News of a weekend attack on a civilian convoy south of Luhansk kick-started the week on Monday. A caravan of cars, reportedly marked as “civilian” with white flags, was leaving the rebel-held city when it was hit by artillery.

Ukraine’s army and pro-Russian rebels each blame the other for attacking the convoy.

“The attack on civilians has brought the civil war to a new level,” notes Kulakoff. “It’s a troubling sign when civilians become targets of civil disruption.”

As victims’ bodies were recovered the following day, government troops notched up efforts to retake rebel-held cities.

Tuesday, August 19
Donetsk and Luhansk are the remaining rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, Reuters reported a concerted effort by Ukrainian forces to gain a foothold in Donetsk. The army was also reportedly fighting “street battles” in Luhansk.

Humanitarian needs are growing especially desperate in Luhansk. According to Reuters, the city has been without running water for 17 days. Along with a water shortage, Kulakoff says Luhansk is running low on electricity, food and medical supplies.

“There’s [also] a shortage of help for those people who are paralyzed and who are bed-ridden,” Kulakoff adds.

What Christians are doing to help
These upticks of violence aren’t stopping Russian Ministries. Their School Without Walls (SWW) students are continuing to bring food, hygiene supplies, Scripture, and more to displaced families. In addition, evangelical churches throughout Ukraine are opening up their buildings to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), providing shelter and resources in the name of Christ.

Russian Ministries Ukraine Update

(Image courtesy Russian Ministries)

“Our office in Kiev alone is full of pastors and lay leaders who’ve [fled fighting and] come there, and have no [other] place to stay,” shares Kulakoff.

$50 USD helps one family receive an “I Care” package, which contains food for a week and Scriptures that explain God’s Good News: salvation for eternity through Christ. You can send one through Russian Ministries by clicking here.

Will you also stand with Russian Ministries in prayer for Ukraine?

“We’re praying that God will turn this around and allow us to be involved in a ministry that will impact people for eternity,” states Kulakoff.

“Please share this need with others. Pray for Ukraine, pray for Russia. I believe this is a moment when God wants to awaken the two countries spiritually.”

Use the social share buttons at the top of this page to “share” the story on your Facebook page, Tweet it to your followers, and more!

Execution delayed for Iranian Christian

Iran (VOM) — A judge has rescheduled the August 12 sentencing date for an Iranian Christian imprisoned outside Tehran, Iran. “Amir” was set to be executed after being imprisoned two years ago after being caught transporting a truckload of Bibles. Publishing, importing, or reprinting Bibles or Christian literature is illegal in Iran. Though the sentencing trial has been delayed, his family remains very concerned for him.

Posted on www.icommittopray.com on August 8, more than 250 people from 18 nations have committed to pray for Amir.These are just a few of the prayers that have been offered on behalf of Amir and his family:

Photo Courtesy icommittopray.com

(Photo Courtesy icommittopray.com)

“Lord Jesus, my heart breaks for Amir and his family. Please move the judicial system in Iran to free him. I pray for a great awakening in Iran.”
— Debbie S. (USA)

“Dear Father in heaven, I sincerely thank You for the life of Amir. Gracious Father, I pray that his faith will not fail in these trying times of his life. The Scriptures say, “Indeed, all who desire to live a holy life in Christ will be persecuted.” I pray that You reverse the execution, and through that,even the executioners will come to the knowledge of Chris.”
— Christina Afua N. (Ghana)

“Thank You, Lord, for this young man. Oh Lord, Your works and Your people are powerful. Oh God, let Your will be done. But we ask that if Your will be to release this man … that many more may come to Christ through him. Release him like You did Peter. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
— Charles A. (India)

Like Charles, many others prayed in the spirit of Acts 12, in which “constant prayer was offered to God for [Peter] by the church,” and Peter escaped from prison. We praise God that Amir’s execution date was postponed, and we pray that God’s perfect will would be done. Continue to offer constant prayers for Amir and his family. Join others in prayer at www.icommittopray.com.

Todd VanEk named to leadership at ministry

Leadership change coming to Mission India.

Child in India (Mission India photo).

USA (MNN) — Revelation 7:9 says, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Unfortunately, as Christians, we know there is much work left to be done. There are many people groups who have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

President and CEO of Mission India of Grand Rapids, Michigan Dave Stravers says, “India has a couple thousand ethnic groups that have not yet received the Gospel. So we’re preparing for the return of Christ by bringing the Gospel to India through indigenous workers in India who are eager to do this and just need a few resources to help in doing it.”

Mission India uses a variety of outreaches to do that. “We’re doing everything we can to bring the name of Jesus to them through children’s ministries, through ministries to the poorest of the poor, through church planting and evangelism. The fantastic news is that people there are now, for the first time, very open to receiving this Good News,” Stravers says.

New leadership coming to Mission India.

Todd VanEk to be
Mission India’s new USA President.

Growth is underway for Mission India. To help continue that growth for years to come, the ministry has hired a new U.S. president to help facilitate that growth. Todd VanEk was approved unanimously to fill those duties. According to Stravers, “Todd will be in charge of our U.S.A. messaging [and] our U.S.A. operations. I’m still overseeing the organization on behalf of our board. I’ll be more involved with our finances and ministry in India and Todd will be our spokesperson.”

That voice is needed because many in the U.S. don’t understand what’s happening in India. “We often think here in America that we’re losing the battle. It seems like we have these setbacks in our own culture. And even though it’s predominately Hindu and Muslim in religion, Jesus is winning incredible battles in India. So many people are coming to know Him.”

VanEk has served as a pastor of three churches over the last 12 years. He has been an advocate for India for more than 10 years, both through church leadership and personally, as he has a child from India.

Stravers says this appointment to president will also position VanEk to assume more leadership at Mission India. “As I get up there in the years and I think about what’s going to be happening, we’re looking for Todd to transition to even more leadership in the organization.” VanEK will assume his duties September 2.

Stravers is asking you to pray for Christians in India. “Because of the great growth of the church there, there’s quite a bit of persecution and push-back from Hindus and Muslims. And so we ask for prayer for courage.”

If you would like to support Mission India’s growing work in India, click here.

Christian Winter results from Arab Spring

(Image shared on Open Doors' Facebook page)

(Image shared on Open Doors’ Facebook page)

Middle East (MNN) — Take a look at any headline today, and you can see the Arab Spring has led to a Christian Winter in the Middle East. The political uprisings of 2011 sparked a wave of unrest that rippled from Tunisia to Iran. Angry protestors shook the foundations of corrupt governments and cleared the regional stage for hardline Islamic entities, like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

How can Christ be shared in such a hostile environment? Berry Feiss of The JESUS Film Project has some good news.

“That barrier is being broken today,” says Feiss, “simply because digital media provides an opportunity for people to see and hear the Gospel in a private environment.

“One broadcaster has called the satellite dish ‘the national flower of Iran.'”

Christian Winter
The Middle East holds a third of the world’s top 30 worst persecutors of Christians, according to the Open Doors USA 2014 World Watch List. ISIS (also known simply as the Islamic State in Iraq) is the most violent anti-Christian entity in the region; earlier this summer, Christians were entirely driven out of Mosul.

(Image courtesy Open Doors USA)

(Image courtesy Open Doors USA)

In many Middle Eastern nations such as Iran, Egypt, and Turkey, blasphemy laws make it nearly impossible for Christians to share the Gospel. In addition, apostasy laws sometimes put a death sentence on conversion, which makes it deadly to even follow Christ. It’s no surprise, given these elements already in place, that the rise of radical Islam has created a Christian Winter.

But, the Lord is creating avenues for His Truth to be made known.

“The Holy Spirit is working, through this film and in the lives of individuals, to draw people to Christ,” shares Feiss.

(Image courtesy The JESUS Film Project)

(Image courtesy The JESUS Film Project)

The real Jesus
Millions of people in the Middle East are naturally curious about Jesus, who many respect as the great “Prophet Isa.” But once they discover who He really is, when they hear the Word of God in their heart language while watching the JESUS film safely in the privacy of their homes, the response is great.

Click here to help send a message of hope and true peace to people in the Middle East.

“The Holy Spirit has to be the One that carries the message into the heart. We can do what we can do to communicate the Good News, but the Holy Spirit has to be the One to change the heart,” notes Feiss.

Feiss shares more examples of God at work through the JESUS film here.

Central Asia is a hard place to be a church

Image courtesy of Slavic Gospel Association

(Image courtesy of Slavic Gospel Association)

Central Asia (MNN) — Violence against churches in Ukraine and Russia continue to grow, and legal reigns are tightening.

The effects are wide-reaching. Governments in Central Asian countries are feeling more free to do the same in their own countries.

Slavic Gospel Association recently received word from a contact in a Central Asian region that there is a “witch hunt” of sorts. The exact location cannot be revealed for security reasons.

Joel Griffith of SGA conveys a story which “discloses yet again the nature of just how the churches that are in Central Asia are under increasing pressure from the government there.”

A church body of about 50 people was meeting in the recreational area located on their property. Suddenly, a large group of police came, taking names and threatening the group with court proceedings.

Griffith believes the group could be fined around $10,000, which is an incredible amount for a poor church like this one.

And what is the offense? “The charge being thrown against them is that they did not get advanced permission to hold this type of activity,” Griffith says. “It’s strange that you have to get permission to do something on your own property, but that seems to be the direction this is taking.”

It’s even more serious than that: “The missionary pastor tells us now that religious organizations are being required to obtain permission from the judiciary to meet somewhere.” This applies “even if it’s in a closed recreational area where no outsiders can see or hear what’s going on. In practice, this inhibits the possibility of preaching the Gospel to unbelievers. It inhibits the church’s witnessing.”

A similar trial is taking place for another church in a different region.

It seems as though these areas could be moving toward anti-conversion laws. Pressure to create laws against religious groups often comes from all sectors of these countries, not just legislation.

As things become harder for churches in this area to spread the Gospel, their needs grow, too. Griffith says, “They’re asking prayer that we please intercede for them that somehow the Lord would just intervene in these situations. Hearing news like this really grieves our hearts.”

Read previous stories related to this topic here.

Egypt: damaged churches begin to re-open

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/nassernasser)

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/nassernasser)

Egypt (World Watch Monitor) — A year after a wave of anti-Christian violence left 64 Egyptian churches in ruin or disrepair, 10 have re-opened, says the Coptic bishop overseeing church restoration. MCN reports that Bishop Morcos of Shubra Al Khaimah said “the army in cooperation with some concerned companies” has restored the 10 damaged churches, which are in the Bani Suef, Sohag, and Minya governorates south of Cairo.

Churches across Egypt were attacked by Muslims angered by the army’s use of deadly force to break up large protest demonstrations that had sprung up as a response to the army’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi, the political leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

On August 14, the Egyptian Army moved against large groups of protesters who had set up camp in Cairo. They had been in the streets since July 3, when the military removed Mohamed Morsi from the presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Using helicopters, tanks, tear gas, and live ammunition–and encountering live fire in return, the Army’s move touched off violence that has left hundreds of Egyptians dead. Morsi remains incommunicado, and thousands of Brotherhood members have been rounded up.

Anger at the Army quickly was directed at Egypt’s Christian churches. Though Christians are a distinct minority of the population, Morsi’s supporters saw the hand of the Coptic Church in the military coup, and mobs attacked dozens of churches up and down the Nile, especially in the Minya region in southern Egypt, where the Christian population is most concentrated–and where some of Egypt’s staunchest Islamist elements are based.

Pray that the reopened churches will be able to resume outreach and corporate worship services.

Greece: then and now

(Photo CosmoVision Center courtesy AMG International)

(Photo CosmoVision Center courtesy AMG International)

Greece (MNN) — A recent photo-essay showed a sad reality in Greece: a decade after it was built to host the 2004 Olympic Games, the Athens site is in ruins.

Despite a weak economy, the country met an ambitious construction plan for new facilities to meet the demands of athletic competition and spectators. Several went nearly 10 billion Euro over-budget. The crushing debt along with a recession contributed to the eventual economic depression.

Even as the country is struggling up from rock bottom, there are some whose stories are different, more purposed.

AMG International president and CEO Tasos Ioannidis says the CosmoVision Center was built in time for use during the Games. But rather than fall to ruin, today it serves as a center for outreach to Greece’s evangelical minority. “It is a place for a family ministry for the evangelical community in Greece. It is a place where we have camps for local kids and also immigrant kids.”

(Photo courtesy AMG International)

(Photo courtesy AMG International)

Why immigrant kids? Ioannidis explains, “Athens is a hub for refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East and from the Far East. A lot of immigrants flow through Athens, and immigrant churches are meeting at the Cosmo Vision Center.”

AMG’s CosmoVision Center just wrapped up two weeks of camp this summer, reaching out to 60 Polish kids from the streets of Athens, Greece. Ioannidis notes, “A lot of them (Polish immigrants) live in material poverty. For the last three summers, we’ve had camps specifically for the Polish kids.” The first week was for children from 6-12 years of age, and the second for teenagers ages 13-17.

AMG’s camps provide a few days off the streets of Athens, embracing them with the love of Christ. “They come there, not only to have a great week in which they are able to have fun and to play, but the majority of the Polish kids that have participated in those camps have come to know the Lord as personal Savior.”

The ministry teams are truly living up to their name at the Cosmo Vision Center, where a Christian worldview is laid out and connected to all walks of life. The Center provides a unique opportunity to introduce underprivileged children to the kingdom of God.

Notes AMG missionary Fotis Romeos (from the AMG vlog), the highlight of the week will be the family celebration on the last day of each camp program, inviting all the families to come and let their children share with them what they have learned.

(Photo courtesy AMG International)

(Photo courtesy AMG International)

The CosmoVision Center is also home to the Zodhiates International Center of New Testament Studies. “There are teams that go from the States for educational purposes to go to study the New Testament in Greece, and they use the CosmoVision Center as a base,” says Ioannidis. This ministry emphasis an opportunity for students to study the language, culture, and lands of the New Testament through a variety of programs.

10 years after the Athens Olympic Games have passed, the AMG Cosmo Vision Center is thriving and growing.   Strategically located just seven miles from the Athens International Airport, the CVC remains a one-of-a-kind multipurpose facility designed to address the spiritual needs of families, youth, and children of Greece and beyond.

Given the recent financial disaster that befell Greece, they need help to keep that growth moving. If you’d like to become a CVC partner, click here for ways you can get involved.

Wear a T-shirt to stand with persecuted Iraqi Christians

(Photo cred: Assyrian International News Agency)

(Photo credit Assyrian International News Agency)

Iraq (MNN) — Are you “N”? Being “N” in Iraq means you have four options: convert to Islam, pay up, get out, or die. Here’s why: the letter “N” stands for the Arabic word nasara, which means Nazarene, and is being used by Islamic State (IS) terrorists to identify the homes of Iraqi Christians.

The “N” symbol, spray-painted in red on believers’ homes in Mosul, Iraq, essentially became a target in mid-July. It paralleled an ultimatum issued to Christians by the terrorists. Now, Voice of the Martyrs USA is using this “N” symbol as a way for believers in the West to support their persecuted brothers and sisters.

When believers were forced to flee Mosul for their lives, some people only had whatever they were wearing at the time. VOM USA is helping these believers by providing daily necessities. They’re also assessing future needs of persecuted Iraqi Christians.

Looking to help Iraqi Christians?

The real question should be, “Are you N?” If you’re willing to claim your faith and stand with those that do–even when it means persecution, you can show that support by purchasing an “I Am N” T-shirt.

stand with iraqi christians

Are you “N”?
(Image credit VOM USA)

Buying an “N” t-shirt doesn’t just show your support for persecuted Iraqi Christians. It’s also a conversation starter. When people ask what the shirt’s symbol means, you can tell them about the persecution being largely overlooked by major news outlets. In addition, half of the sale proceeds are used to help persecuted Iraqi Christians.

Find more details and order a T-shirt at VOM’s “I Am N” Web site.

Financial needs are obvious, but could you please cover Iraqi Christians in prayer, too? Pray for their protection and safety. Pray that hardships they’re enduring will make them cling even tighter to the Lord. Pray for VOM USA as they assess future needs and develop a response strategy.

More about VOM USA’s work around the world here.