Ebola epidemic stalls outreach

(Graphic courtesy Living Water International)

(Graphic courtesy Living Water International)

West Africa (LWI) — The Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa has claimed a second doctor from Sierra Leone. The death toll continues to climb even as doctors race to find a vaccine.

Living Water International staff in Liberia and Sierra Leone desperately need your prayers. They are living and working in the midst of the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history, risking their lives to bring clean water and the love of Jesus to those most in need.

To date, over 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, according to World Health Organization figures. Health officials are being warned to be vigilant for the symptoms of the virus.

(Photo courtesy Living Water International)

(Photo courtesy Living Water International)

Liberia’s president has ordered the nation’s schools to shut down and civil workers to stay home as fears of Ebola epidemic spread. There are now concerns that the virus could spread beyond West Africa. Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

LWI staff is taking preventive measures and exercising every precaution possible. Living Water International’s offices in Liberia and Sierra Leone are closing for two weeks, and all staff have been asked to remain home.

Kanyata Mukelabai, Living Water’s country director in Liberia reports, “My staff and I are serious about our precautions. We no longer shake hands. Chlorinated water is provided at two points at the office for everyone to wash their hands regularly and as they go to and from the office. This is now a practice at most offices and even churches.”

“There is now more awareness of the disease by the local people,” said Hastings Banda, Living Water’s country director in Sierra Leone. “Initially there was a lot of denial as people generally didn’t believe it was a disease. Of course there are still pockets of areas where some people still don’t believe. People going out of the affected areas are being screened before they can be allowed to go, to avoid spreading the disease to other areas.”

Please pray for:

  • The protection and health of Living Water staff in Liberia and Sierra Leone
  • Guidance and strength for Living Water leadership in Liberia and Sierra Leone
  • An immediate end to the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history


You are helping save Christians around the world

Photo by Open Doors USA

(Photo by Open Doors USA)

Int’l (ODM) — God is using your support to help save Christians who have fled their homes, and provide strength and comfort.

One of the greatest crises of our time is the growing number of Christian refugees: men, women, and children who have been forced to flee their homes because of escalating violence, death threats, and direct assaults, just because they are Christians.

Because of your generous ongoing support, Open Doors has been able to help keep these Christians alive, despite the horrific plights they have faced. Here are just a few of the amazing ways God is at work strengthening these precious brothers and sisters through your support.

A Young Woman Willing to Die for Her Faith in Iraq

Raja, a young Iraqi Christian in her 20s, will never forget that day: the day her pastor’s lifeless body was found in a gutter.

He had been taken by extremists who had brutally beaten him and then killed him, all for refusing to deny Jesus. And to send a message, they had dumped his body in a gutter.

Because of the increasing violence, persecution, and death threats, Raja and her family were forced to flee from their home. But that horrific event has deeply challenged Raja’s faith.

“I started wondering if I was actually ready to die for my faith, like my pastor did,” she explained. “I have to be honest: at first I wasn’t that brave. I thought, ‘I’ll just say I converted to Islam, but stay a Christian in my heart.’ But when I thought about the sacrifice my pastor had made, I started realizing that I never wanted to deny my faith. I know that the pain of death only lasts for a minute, but after that I will be with my Savior forever.”

Today, Raja and her family are working to restart their lives in another part of Iraq that is still filled with dangers. Open Doors is there helping to provide the resources, encouragement, and support they need to rebuild… and stand firm in their faith.

Keeping Christians Alive in Central Asia

Ahmed, a pastor in a Central Asian Muslim-majority country (which cannot be named for security reasons), is like many pastors in this region of the world. Local authorities, the government, and neighbors often turn against them and threaten them because of their faith.

For Ahmed, the threats became so intense that he had to make the hard decision to flee his country to take his family to safety. And now he is facing arrest.

Open Doors is there to provide a safe house for Ahmed and his family while they wait to be able to return to their home. They are working with him to strengthen and encourage him during this difficult time.

In spite of the difficulties, Ahmed remains resolute in his faith and determined to see the Gospel advanced. As he says, “My dream, and the dream of my family, is to see the love of Christ spread through our hometown.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 7.6 million people have been displaced this year. Among this number–which is rapidly growing–are an increasing number of Christians who are being forced to flee for their lives. In countries like Iraq, North Korea, and many Central Asian countries, Christians have lost almost everything because of their faith in Christ.

Please pray that Ahmed and his family will be able to return to their home, so they can continue to be a light for the gospel in a place of deep spiritual darkness.

Though many of these believers have lost almost everything, your prayers and support are helping to keep these brave Christians alive. Your faithfulness has equipped Open Doors to be able to serve these Christians and bring restoration to their communities. Thank you for standing with them!

Opposition for Christians heading back to school: why it matters for you too

Photo by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Photo by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

USA (MNN) — Imagine this scenario: You’re a part of an animal rights club on a college campus. One of the requirements you have for the leader of the club is that they have to believe in the pursuit of animal rights.

All of the sudden, the college catches wind of your leadership requirements, and they decide to stop recognizing you as a campus group for reasons of discrimination. They tell you if you would only require the leader to know animal treatment statistics rather than make them believe in animal rights, they would let you stay on campus. Would you think that was crazy?

Well, in a way, that’s what’s happening for religious groups on campuses around the United States. Yes, religious beliefs are different than humanitarian and animal rights beliefs, but perhaps the analogy makes the point.

Greg Jao of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship explains, “A large number of universities are now using their non-discrimination policies to prohibit groups like InterVarsity from using religious criteria in choosing our leaders. Our membership is open, we welcome everyone to be a member of our groups. But we do require our leaders to be Christian because we think Christian groups should be led by Christians.”

It kind of makes sense. Hindus wouldn’t want a Christian to lead a Hindu club, atheists wouldn’t want a Muslim to lead their club.

Ignoring the question why any individual would want to lead a faith-based club of a different faith than their own in the first place, do you think it’s wrong for faith-based and focused groups to require their leaders to believe what they’re leading the group in?

InterVarsity thinks not. But this is the challenge they’ve faced for over a year in California schools where they are being de-recognized. That includes 23 campuses and about 450,000 students. InterVarsity has to figure out what they’re going to do upon returning this fall.

Not being recognized by the university means they don’t have the ability to reserve rooms to meet on campus. It means they can’t join in student activities fairs which is their main way of getting the word out about InterVarsity opportunities. They lose the access and benefits of a recognized organization.

The California schools have given InterVarsity a year to change their requirements. Jao says, “We took the intervening year and we looked at alternative ways to try to meet the universities non-discrimination requirements around leadership while still remaining true to what we think Scripture teaches. And we’ve been unable to find a way forward.”

InterVarsity has proposed that the schools amend their policy and model it after non-discrimination policies used by Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin, Texas, Houston, and Minnesota. These policies make exemptions for religious groups and allow them to require leaders be believers.

The ministry has also talked about alternative ways the universities could recognize them given the unique needs of religious groups.

Jao says, “The non-discrimination policy was supposed to be protective of religious groups, but the current interpretation makes their religion a problem, and so it’s a little self-defeating.”

Now InterVarsity is asking themselves this question: If they can’t be a recognized student group, how do they continue to reach and serve the students, faculty, campus, and administration?

Jao says that for the last 10 years, God has called InterVarsity to expand the ministry to new chapters on new campuses. The technique to do this will come in handy as a possible way to work on campuses where they are not recognized as a student group.

They’re taking those skills and using them at schools where they already work.

“Chapter planting doesn’t require the traditional structures; it gives you new opportunities to look at the mission field in new ways. So we’re using many of those tactics about how to gather students informally, disciple them, mentor them, and then deploy them in mission quickly to reach campuses today,” Jao explains.

Jao says that nearly 25% of participants in InterVarsity groups are not Christian. But as more people join, that percentage isn’t growing. As new non-believers join the group, some of the old ones are accepting Christ.

“We’ve seen the number of new Christians in our groups double over the last eight years or so,” Jao says.

And what has happened is that this challenge is actually working to refine their goals:

“What we’ve found is actually the campus access question presses InterVarsity chapters to consider, ‘How important are our core beliefs to us?'”

While many participants of InterVarsity are new Christians, Jao says, “Both veteran and very new Christians have walked through those situations saying, ‘Actually it’s even clearer to me now why it’s important that we have a clear doctrinal basis, why the doctrinal basis matters, and why good theology actually propels us in the mission.'”

InverVarsity is as committed as ever to teaching students how to study and learn through Scripture and to think more deeply about how to communicate the essentials of the Christian faith to the next generation.

“Even though the campus access challenge has been a problem for us, it’s actually been part of God’s invitation to renew our commitment to great discipleship, teaching students about the basic theological statements of the faith, and to engage in mission more thoroughly,” Jao says.

And in this story is a lesson for all of us. When we decide to follow Christ, we need to be aware that we’re taking a stand in all areas of our life and not be shocked when people don’t like our stand.

Jao says, “We should expect opposition because the world is a mission field. In fact, the reason people oppose what the Christian fellowships are doing is they don’t know the Gospel, and don’t know who Jesus is.

“And so rather than being distressed or discouraged by opposition, this is actually, for at least for InterVarsity, a constant reminder– we need to be praying for our mission field, we need more missionaries on our mission field, and opposition is our opportunity to explain graciously, winsomely, intelligibly why we believe what we believe, and invite people to follow Jesus as well.”

The Church has faced opposition its entire existence, and it hasn’t snuffed out our hope yet. Jao thinks just the opposite.

“Opposition actually shouldn’t discourage us, it’s part of God’s invitation to us, I think, to trust him more deeply, to engage in mission a little bit more carefully, and then to be encouraged.

“I’ve had a number of younger students tell me, ‘I’m understanding– in just a small way– what our brothers and sisters around the world face every day. And it’s a privilege and honor to stand and experience just a little bit of that now.'”

He says that this is a key time for students to learn how to deal with opposition because, like it or not, it will be a part of their life forever. They need to know how to say no to compromising beliefs to make their life easier.

Jao leaves us with this thought: “The beginning of the school year is an incredible opportunity for High School students and for college students. And I hope churches and parents will not only prepare them academically and materially […], but will begin to prepare their students spiritually.”

It’s important for them to go in with the mindset not only to be educated, but to impact. They should be excited for the privilege to minister to their peers. These are the people who will be leading the government, churches, and businesses for the next several decades.

“They’re walking into a mission field, a mission field that God’s prepared them for and prepared for them.”

If you want to stay updated on campus access issues to know how to pray, follow this link here.

Donations help Christian refugees in Iraq

Iraq (E3P) — Editor’s Note: This is in response to the assault on Erbil launched by ISIS. The church has been instrumental in caring for the refugees, but they’re struggling to keep up.

Our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being killed and tortured by the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS (recently renamed The Islamic State). ISIS is so blood thirsty and fanatical that Al-Qaeda recently broke ties with them for being too extreme.

After Mosul fell to ISIS, all residents were required to reveal if they were Muslim or Christian. Christians in Mosul, which is the ancient city of Nineveh, had the Arabic letter “N” spray painted on their homes by ISIS. What does the “N” stand for? It stands for “Nazarene,” or literally “of Nazareth” for Jesus of Nazareth.

After it was determined who the Christians were, their houses were spray painted with signs: “This House is Now Property of the Islamic State.” An announcement was then made over Mosque loudspeakers: “Today is the day you must choose to convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax, die, or leave.”

Photo Courtesy Pure Charity and e3 Partners

Photo Courtesy Pure Charity and e3 Partners

Christian families left en masse, allowed only to take the clothes on their backs. Baby diapers and formula were confiscated, and the sick were not allowed to take medication. Everything was left behind. As a final insult, all married women were ordered to leave their wedding rings, or lose their finger.

The Christian refugees from Mosul headed for Kurdish-controlled areas like the city of Erbil. Later on, ISIS bragged about it on twitter claiming that they “humiliated the Christians.” They also boasted, “Mosul is Christian Free!”

So what do we do? Do we just sit back and let this happen? E3 Partners says no! Their leaders are welcoming these refugees into the Kurdish cities to which they’ve been exiled. Here is how you can help. They need food, clothes, and other necessities right now. Make a donation today, and E3 Partners will safely get the funds to their Iraqi leaders immediately who are standing by, praying, and waiting to help.

E3 Partners leaders in Iraq are not only addressing the physical needs of the displaced Christians, but they’re addressing the spiritual needs as well. Daniel, E3 Iraqi director, has scheduled a training this week with 30 Mosul refugees to teach them to share their faith and plant house churches Most people are heading for the hills, but he is training them to share the gospel and start groups. Jesus is moving in the midst of all the evil.

This secure Web site has been set up specifically to help refugees in Iraq.


Displaced Ukrainians need your help

Exploding shells are destroying homes and churches in the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian rebels have been battling for control since March.  (Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)

Exploding shells are destroying homes and churches in the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian rebels have been battling for control since March.
(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)

Ukraine (SGA/MNN) — Displaced Ukrainians face a bleak future. Around 300,000 have been forced to leave their homes and livelihoods, according to the UN. Several eastern cities and towns have sustained heavy damage from the violent battles, destroying their economy. People fleeing that violence are flooding into other parts of Ukraine, taxing resources and patience.

Displaced Ukrainians often appear in safe zones with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They enter with needs that must be immediately met: food, shelter, clean water. People who stayed in rebel-held cities also face enormous challenges.

Some have been without electricity, running water or medical aid for over two weeks. Over 200 Russian trucks–supposedly carrying more than 2,000 tons of water, baby food, and other aid–fell under close scrutiny as they approached the Russia-Ukraine border Friday.

“There’s great concern, on all sides, wondering what the true intentions of that are,” says Bret Laird with Slavic Gospel Association. “Obviously, all hope that the intentions are good.”

Laird says his contacts are telling him, “This convoy is either going to be an excuse for an escalation, or it’s going to be a way to back off.”

Nonetheless, SGA is equipping local believers with resources so they can help displaced Ukrainians in Christ’s name. Their efforts are driven by the command in Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

You can help by contributing to SGA’s Crisis Evangelism Fund.

This fund helps local pastors who have few resources, and enables their churches to distribute vitally important food aid, as well as Bibles, Christian literature, and other essentials. Most important of all, displaced Ukrainians will hear the life-changing Gospel and experience the love of Christ–the only true Hope for ultimate peace and reconciliation.

Your gifts to the fund can help accomplish so many things. For example, $15 USD can help provide a food pack, which contains flour, cooking oil, pasta, and other staples, as well as Christian literature. Larger gifts can help provide physical assistance like mattresses and bed linens.

“We’ve been taking care of church members who are in need, but also equipping them to reach out to their most-needy neighbors,” says Laird, explaining that SGA often sends five food packs to each church family. Four are for the family to keep, while one is designated for a neighbor in need.

Please continue to pray for Ukraine.  (Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)

Please continue to pray for Ukraine.
(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)

“This provides a wonderful context for them to reach out with the Gospel and the love of Christ to their neighbors.”

Will you pray for these believers as they share Christ’s love?

Pray that world leaders will have wisdom in the Russia-Ukraine situation and pursue means of peaceful resolution. Pray the suffering of displaced Ukrainians and those in trapped in eastern Ukraine would be relieved.

More Ukraine stories here.

Thanksgiving, Canada, the Great Commission, and your role

Canada (MNN) — What comes to mind when you think of Toronto, Canada?

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

How about Thanksgiving?

That’s what Judy Vanderark, co-founder of MOSES Inc., hopes you’ll connect. Here’s why: “The trip is over Thanksgiving break. The dates are November 25-30. We’ll be ministering more to people on this trip than any of our other trips. We do a lot with inner city ministries and missions.”

She’s referring to their last short-term mission trip of 2014.

Why Toronto? “We just find that there are believers from all these different countries that have landed in Toronto. There are also unbelievers that are seeking.” Vanderark calls it the Melting Pot of Canada. Census figures show that Toronto is the fifth most populous city in North America. According to government reports, nearly half of those living in Toronto were born outside of Canada.

The vast city’s diversity also means that a spiritual hunger exists. “There’s a lot of seeking going on in Toronto, I think. People are open to the Word of God and to hearing about the Gospel and finding out who Jesus is.”

However, despite active tourism and a colorful façade of vibrancy, the reality is that nearly 25% of Toronto’s residents are living in poverty, according to the 2013 report from Frasier Institute (an independent Canadian public policy research group). However, Vanderark says that issue has helped sharpen the focus of this trip.

(Photo Toronto, CN skyline courtesy Wikipedia)

(Photo Toronto, CN skyline courtesy Wikipedia)

MOSES has spent several of the 20 years they’ve been working in Toronto partnering with an inner city ministry. That will continue this year, she says. “We help with a kids church where the children are very poor and living in projects. We just love to help with the Bible stories, skits, and the songs and things. It’s kind of a highlight of the week for these children.” The details on the rest of the trip haven’t been firmed up yet, but will likely include work with the homeless, and support for the ministries that help them.

What’s more, MOSES uses the time they have to multi-task. Not only are they serving another part of the body of Christ, but they are investing in its future. It starts small. “We are big into training student leaders. For those who are serving as student leaders, they have to lead and to be leading their peers in the Bible studies, making sure everybody’s accounted for and in the right place at the right time.”

Can you think of a better way to spend your Thanksgiving? This trip bundles humility, gratitude, and life lessons all at once. Registration hasn’t opened yet, but will soon. If you’re really excited about planning your Thanksgiving break with MOSES, Inc., start your journey here.

Then, “Pray that God will bring the right people to us for this team. Each team is different, and we’re always blessed when we see the mix of abilities and hearts that are brought to us. Pray for safe travel and that we can be a blessing to those that we serve.”

Iraq: local believers offer healing amid the horror

People flee as ISIS pushes North (Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

People flee as ISIS pushes North.
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

Iraq (CAM/MNN) — ISIS has been moving quickly from the beginning, and their violence is especially felt in Iraq. This morning CNN reported that Kurdish troops had regained the Mosul Dam. This was a particularly dangerous post for ISIS to control. If the dam fails or gets blown up, it could flood Mosul and Baghdad and other downstream cities with the potential to kill many civilians.

Meanwhile, Iraq struggles to get solid leadership in place. Iraq’s Parliament named a new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi. It seems everyone is holding their breath to see what is going to happen to Iraq and the surrounding countries.

No matter what happens, there will be people suffering. Many of the millions of refugees from Syria and internally displaced people in Iraq have nowhere to go. When they fled their villages, there was no time to pack necessities. And now many of their homes are destroyed.

Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, hears disturbing reports from Iraq, but they also hear inspiring stories about something much bigger.

Tragedy and Revival:

“Norya is a Syrian refugee who got saved in a camp in Iraq. She lost five children and her husband when a rocket fired by Syrian government forces toward the terrorists landed on her house causing their death. She sings hymns with us at our church group meetings.”

Norya’s story is one of several sent to Christian Aid Mission by a native ministry leader working in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Those working with him spend the majority of their days sharing Christ with the destitute masses crowding the refugee camps.

Norya (left) with a ministry worker. (Photo by Christian Aid Mission.

Norya (left) with a ministry worker.
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission.

The workers go from tent to tent, sitting down with frightened families who have fled ISIS, the merciless Islamic terrorist group that succeeded last week in purging all non-Muslims from every town and village in the Nineveh region.

Kurdish forces had been protecting the last remaining cities in the region, including Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in Iraq, until last week when they abandoned their posts after a conflict with ISIS.

Arguably one of the most extreme and brutal terrorist groups in history, ISIS now controls a huge portion of the country. They have kidnapped, raped, and sold women. They’ve beheaded children. On August 11, a report emerged that ISIS had sliced a five-year-old boy in half.

More than 200,000 people have escaped to the Kurdish city of Irbil, 55 miles east of Qaraqosh, with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“Their homes and churches were burned to the ground,” the ministry leader reported.

What would normally be a 45-minute drive between Qaraqosh and Irbil took the fleeing masses 12 hours.

More than 2 million internally displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees, also fleeing ISIS, are currently packed in the Irbil region. These have filled every building in the city beyond capacity, leaving thousands to live and sleep on the streets.

For those people without shelter, ministry workers organize “sleeping groups,” where a large number of families gather together to sleep in one area for safety.

“The Lord’s hand is clearly upon us and protecting us from evil,” reported the leader. “Even though some of us are going through trials, we believe strongly that the Lord is taking us to another level of faith and a higher place of blessing.”


In the Kurdish town of Akra, some of the displaced are living in buildings originally built to hold Iranian prisoners during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Each bathroom is being shared by approximately 10 families.

Most of the others live in a refugee camp, and the only school is without a roof. It collapsed during the winter. The teachers asked ministry workers for help to replace the windows and roof, even with just a plastic tarp. The workers prayed with the teachers and shared the gospel with many of the students.

“Most of the refugees asked for food. They told us this was their primary need,” the leader reported.

As they were going from tent to tent in the Akra camp, gospel workers came upon Abu Mustafa, a 50-year-old man who has three girls with cerebral atrophy and whose wife was killed. Mustafa was blaming God for his tragic situation, but allowed the workers to read the Bible to him and pray for him.

“This is the first time, I feel relief,” Mustafa told the workers. “For three years, I couldn’t smile or feel safe, but now I feel differently. I have peace in my heart. Please pray for my girls. I believe Jesus can heal them and heal me from the inside.” He daily calls the workers to ask when they will visit him again.

Abu Mustafa's daughters (Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

Abu Mustafa’s daughters (Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

Who Are These Workers?

According to multiple ministry leaders working among the internally displaced in the Kurdish region, workers are plentiful.

In a conversation with Christian Aid Mission’s Middle East Director, one ministry leader reported an “army of volunteers from local churches and house churches are ready and willing to help.” These workers, he said, are all born again, evangelical believers with at least basic Bible training, most of whom he has worked with previously.

With funding wired from Christian Aid Mission, the ministries are easily able to buy supplies from local markets to distribute to the needy.

“Everything is available locally and could be purchased in a matter of hours and distributed within a few days,” reported one ministry leader.

Typically, one group of workers is assigned with the task of purchasing the supplies and another group with distributing the supplies. Everything is overseen by the ministry leaders.

Ministry workers distribute aid to those who have been forced from their homes by ISIS. (Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

Ministry workers distribute aid to those who have been forced from their homes by ISIS. (Photo by Christian Aid Mission)

The greatest needs are food, clothing, mattresses, medicine, fuel for transportation, Bibles, and worker support.

“In addition to their need for prayer and spiritual strength from the Lord, the workers have personal needs. At the end of the day when they return to their homes, they have to take care of their own families,” a ministry leader told the director.

Long after foreign aid agencies leave the region, these native workers will remain to continue their outreach to the many broken people, hungry for hope and truth.

“In a crisis like this, we are experiencing a time of revival and awakening everywhere,” reported a ministry leader. “God is not just moving people geographically; He is moving in their hearts, as well.”

The Needs

God is using native missionaries in Iraq to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with those who have been forced from their homes. But the needs are great! Gospel workers want to meet physical needs, as well as spiritual needs, and they require our help to do so.

One of the ministries Christian Aid Mission is assisting in Iraq sent the following request for funds, sufficient for two months of relief aid.

  • Food. Two meals daily for 100 people at a cost of $2 per meal: $24,000.
  • Clothing. Used clothing for women and children, especially those sleeping in the open air: $5,000.
  • Mattresses: A piece of foam covered with fabric costs about $30. The need is for 400: $12,000.
  • Medication: The ministry would like to start a fund for people in need of medicine for diabetes, asthma, heart problems, blood pressure problems, and other health concerns: $10,000.
  • Fuel: To transport basic necessities to the refugees, especially those without any type of shelter. To run five vehicles a day for two months: $15,000.
  • Bibles: The ministry has exhausted its supply of Bibles. Thousands of people are hearing the gospel. Bibles, New Testaments, and children’s Bibles for two months: $30,000.
  • Worker support: The ministry currently has 12 men and women who are working full-time without support. To provide each worker with $600 per month for two months: $14,400.

Use the this link to contribute online. Or call 434-977-5650 to contribute by phone. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 444IRAQ. Thank you!


The Mission Society offers Global Outreach Weekend

Photo courtesy of The Mission Society

(Photo courtesy of The Mission Society)

USA (MNN) — There once was a small and poor village that was part of a much larger kingdom. Though it was poor, the village specialized in the best red wine around. One day, the villagers received word that their king was coming to visit them.

Together the villagers decided that they should present a gift to the king: a barrel of red wine. Since they were poor, it seemed best for each villager to contribute one cup of their best wine. And they all agreed and went home that night with full hearts, proud of their village and ready to serve the king.

But when it came time to pour the wine into the barrel, one villager thought to himself, “Everyone is bringing their finest wine. I don’t have much. I will just bring a cup of water, and nobody will know the difference.”

And that is what he did. On the day of arrival, they presented the king with the barrel. After he took a sip of the wine, his face reddened with anger.

“Why did you give me water and call it wine?” he asked furiously. He wondered if they were playing a joke on him.

The villagers were stunned. They investigated the barrel to find, indeed, it was full of water. It soon became apparent that each of the villagers had assumed the rest of the village would provide their best wine, and that nobody would notice just a cup of water.

Instead of bringing the king’s favor upon their village, the villagers were deeply ashamed.

This is a story Max Wilkins of The Mission Society told us that a man from Kosovo had told him.

“Everyone in the village had poured a cup of water in the barrel, and at the end they had all assumed that someone else would bring their very best to the King. No one had ultimately brought anything at all,” Wilkins says.

What’s the point of this story?

You may think that’s a cute story with an obvious message about integrity and doing your best and so on. It is, but this story in particular has something to say to the Church. It is a reminder about our role in missions.

Wilkins says, “I believe in the depths of my being that mission is the reason the church exists. And yet, so many of our local churches are not in any meaningful way mobilized for mission. I don’t think it’s usually unwillingness; I think sometimes it’s just that people have never thought about the mission of the church. And a lot of times, churches just don’t know how to go about mobilizing.”

So the connection is this: most Christians assume that missions is the job of those few missionaries whose pictures are put up on the wall next to a sign that says “Featured Missionary of the Month.”

But when the majority of the church has this in mind, what is actually accomplished?

Let’s go back to the story. Let’s say that a small percentage of the village was true to their word and put their best wine into the barrel. What happens? Not only is the “wine” still going to taste bad, but the honest villagers’ contributions will be ruined.

What if we were to do this in every aspect of our lives? That’s not to say that God isn’t still doing wonderful things with those who are actively serving in missions, but what could it look like if we all lifted a hand to help?

But… missions aren’t for me

Maybe God hasn’t called you to be a missionary, at least not in the traditional sense. But He has called you, as His child, to bring His Good News to every area of the earth.

So, ask yourself, how is your church doing that in a significant way? How is your church impacting the world for Christ? If you can’t answer, you may want to keep reading.

Global Outreach Weekend

The Mission Society would like to train your church to engage the world for missions in a faithful manner. They want to teach you how to use every member of your church–the givers, goers, or prayers–to be effective in missions. They do this through their Global Outreach Weekend.

Wilkins says, “[It] helps the pastor and key leaders of a local church to understand the biblical mandate for mission, why it matters, and what it means for mission to be at the heart of who a church is–and we’re talking of course about the mission of Jesus, so the purpose that we exist.”

After the conference, The Mission Society offers various follow-up options to help the church put what it’s just learned into action.

Wilkins, who is the new president of The Mission Society, tells us how his church was impacted by the Global Outreach Weekend.

The church he pastored for 30 years had a healthy ministry. But missions was always a side program designated for the dozen people who cared about it. They were the ones who went on mission trips to Haiti on a small budget of $23,000.

It was their interest, their calling supported by the church, but the thousands of other members were completely disconnected.

Then The Mission Society came along.

They asked the church to establish a goal to increase their mission impact and grow their ministry.

Wilkins says he thought he was being very faithful when he increased the budget by three times.

But in the first year, they raised $825,000. The church as a whole had a changed heart for missions.

“It changed the hearts of the entire congregation so that the church actually became known all over the community as the mission church,” Wilkins says.

All of the sudden, dozens more in the church began to answer a call to ministry, hundreds of them signing up for short-term missions, and others dedicating their lives long-term to the mission field.

“The heart for it was there with our people, but it was The Mission Society coming alongside us and helping us see how to take that heart and mobilize it and put legs on it that made all the difference,” Wilkins explains.

Not only are we supposed to care about missions, but it really is the whole point.

Wilkins says, “The church is the called-out Body of Christ who have been put on a mission by Jesus, and it’s a part of who God’s called us to be.”

Wilkins says the man who told the story of the wine villagers said this to him, “The Church of Jesus Christ has been given everything by the Lord, and what He asks is that we bring the very best that we have to honor Him. But if all of us sit back and say, “You know, I’m going to keep the very best for myself, somebody else will do it,” at the end of the day rather than bringing our very best, we end up bringing nothing to the Lord.”

Our calling is to honor our God through our lives.

Wilkins says, “The best way we honor the King of kings is to join Him in His mission in the world and bring the very best we have to that task that He gave us to do.”

Find out more about how your church can get involved with the Global Outreach Weekend here.

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.”


(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!

(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.

(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.

(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.