World News Briefs

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Pakistan basketball trimmedPakistan’s first national Christian basketball team shares pre-match prayers. See story below. Image: Pakistan Bible Society.

Missions Catalyst News Briefs 01.18.17

  1. WORLD: 50 Countries Where Christian Are Most Persecuted
  2. PAKISTAN: First National Christian Basketball Team
  3. UGANDA: Sheikh Sent to Kill Pastor Becomes Christian
  4. ALGERIA: A Year in Prison Due to Facebook Post
  5. GHANA: Saving the Life of an “Evil Child”

WORLD: 50 Countries Where Christians Are Most Persecuted

Source: Open Doors, January 11, 2017

The 2017 World Watch List is here—ranking the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Please use this report to learn more about these countries and how you can be praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters.

Thank you for standing with persecuted Christians in all of these countries.

» A related story from Mission Network News provides helpful analysis (with different angles on the data showing up in a variety of articles published in the last week). A video from Open Doors reminds us “the list isn’t just numbers and figures. It represents those who have decided to follow Jesus, no matter the cost.” Topping this year’s list are North Korea, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

» See also the Human Rights Watch annual report, which summarizes 2016 human rights issues in more than 90 countries worldwide.

PAKISTAN: First National Christian Basketball Team

Source: United Bible Societies, December 19, 2017

History was made last month when Pakistan’s first national Christian basketball team—Koinonia Love Pakistan—toured Malaysia. According to the Pakistan Bible Society, which was instrumental in the team’s formation last year, it was the first time that Pakistan’s Christian community has officially represented their country in a sporting event abroad.

“I feel honored that our Christian boys represented Pakistan,” said Bible Society General Secretary Anthony Lamuel. “We thank God that through sport we have been able to promote the disciplined use of the Word of God as a strength in the growth of our Christian faith.”

The team was formed by the Pakistan Bible Society, the Pakistan Basketball Federation (PBF) and the Peace Ambassadors Society (a Christian sports organization) after last year’s Christian sports festival. This annual event, organized by the Bible Society, has become the country’s largest Christian sports festival, attracting around 1,000 people who compete in a variety of sports, including cricket, football, athletics, and basketball.

The festival’s guest of honor, PBF Vice President Colonel Naseem Butt, was so impressed by the standard of the basketball being played that he suggested forming a Christian team to play on a national level. The young team, who are mostly aged between 15 and 25, went on to play in several national basketball matches, all of which they won.

“Our emphasis is to help young people to use their sporting talent and time to glorify God and share his love, peace and Good News,” explains team manager Irfan Francis, who works for the Pakistan Bible Society. “Through this work we provide spiritual, educational, physical and professional training to young Christian sportsmen, and help them to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through sport.”

Please pray for the Pakistan Bible Society’s work to use sport to share the Bible and promote peace.

» Read full story.

» See also a story from Uganda, National Rugby Team Sings Christian Hymn before Every Game (God Reports).

UGANDA: Sheikh Sent to Kill Pastor Becomes Christian

Source: Morning Star News, January 12, 2017

Islamic extremists ambushed a church leader in eastern Uganda last week after a sheikh they had sent to assassinate him at a church service instead became a Christian, sources said.

Sunni Muslim extremists had sent the sheikh, trained in Islamic proselytization, to the church’s worship service on December 4 to kill [said Bishop George Edweu of the Pentecostal Upright Church].

As the bishop was preaching on hearing and understanding the voice of God, the sheikh was sitting among the congregation of 200 people when the power of the gospel convicted him of sin, Bishop Edweu said. The young man rushed up to the podium and fell at the preacher’s feet.

Bishop Edweu said he stopped preaching and questioned the young man. As tears rolled down the sheikh’s cheeks, he answered, “I was sent to come and attack, to kill the pastor and destroy the church,” according to the bishop.

He repented as the shaken congregation looked on, Bishop Edweu prayed for him, and the would-be assassin put his faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, the pastor said.

News of the former sheikh’s conversion hit the community like lightning, and the young man knew he had to go into hiding. He, his wife, and two children, took refuge at an undisclosed location.

Since then area Muslims have been announcing his conversion weekly as they gather for mosque prayers. A local Christian resident told Morning Star News that on Fridays he has heard over the mosque loudspeaker, “[Name withheld] needs to die for forsaking Islam.”

The bishop and his congregation fear more persecution could be imminent.

The incident was the latest in a series of anti-Christian attacks in eastern Uganda.

» Read full story. See also Christian Woman in Eastern Uganda Coerced into Taking Poison.

ALGERIA: A Year in Prison Due to Facebook Post

Source: World Watch Monitor, January 12, 2017

An Algerian Christian has been sentenced to a year in prison for a post he made on Facebook.

On January 8, the court in Bouira (100 km east of Algiers) found Samir Chamek, 34, guilty of insulting Islam and its prophet over items he posted on his Facebook page. The sentencing follows a year-long legal battle:

“I will appeal to the Supreme Court,” Chamek told World Watch Monitor. “I explained to the judge that I only shared publications from other people, and I do not master the computer and French very well.”

» Read full story; additional details in a story from Morning Star News. Slimane Bouhaf, whose story we included in our last edition of news briefs, was also imprisoned due to an anti-Islamic Facebook post.

GHANA: Saving the Life of an “Evil Child”

Source: Partners International, December 24, 2017

Among the Konkomba people group, there is a bizarre but common practice of killing infants who are believed to carry evil destinies. When a child is born into a pagan home, the parents consult mediums to know whether the new-born will bring luck or evil to the family into which he or she is born. If the medium rules that the child will bring evil, the parents are tasked to purchase an animal for sacrifice and also provide other needed items including money to aid in the ritual of taking away the life of that child.

Malalb is a mother who nearly lost her four-year-old-daughter to such a barbaric practice. Malalb is a Christian married to an unbelieving husband, Bambilla. When their baby girl was born, Bambilla decided to consult an oracle to know whether the newborn would bring a blessing or a curse on the family. The oracle divined that the baby was an evil child and so she had to be killed to prevent her ill-fate from befalling the family. Bambilla accepted this and decided to purchase the ritual items comprising a goat and money among other things needed for the murder of his daughter.

Malalb looked on helplessly as her husband prepared to take the life of their only daughter at the time. Even though she did not condone her husband’s decision, there was little she could do to make him change his mind.

Thankfully, God intervened…

» Read full story.

» Here’s an update from another story about caring for children which we’ve been following: Compassion Has “Very Little Hope” for India, Sets Deadline to Shut Down Sponsorships (Christianity Today).

Gifts, Questions, and Why the Magi Still Matter

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epiphany-image

By Shane Bennett

Unless you go to a really cool church, Epiphany may have slipped by last weekend without notice. And that’s too bad. The speaker where I went on Sunday didn’t even mention it all (yeah, that was me!) But my friend Chris did, and he agreed to let me borrow liberally from his sermon. Which is good, because the story most of us commemorate with Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi to honor Jesus, is fascinating and chock full of challenge and hope.

Ever wonder how it went down?

There’s Mary, maybe making dinner, scolding Jesus for wearing his diaper on his head and pondering things in her heart, when the nosy neighbor kid from down the street barrels in shouting, “Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary!” She turns, raises her eyebrows and waits for the report. “There’s some weird guys and they look rich and I think they’re looking for you guys and I don’t know where they’re from, but they smell funny.” Mary wipes her hands, drops Jesus back into his nappy, and goes to the gate. When she opens it, her hand goes to her mouth. The towel falls to the ground.

Matthew doesn’t tell us what the magi said, but that they were both very happy and very humbled. That evening, with most of the town peeking in, they bowed before the boy, opened the goodie bags, and honored the king they’d journeyed so far to meet.

I like these guys for a few reasons. Not just because they logged a gazillion desert miles to see Jesus, while I sometimes won’t even open the Bible app on my phone!

1. They’re Gentiles.

First off, as far as we know, they were the first Gentiles to recognize who this kid was. They were the first outsiders to honor, worship, and adore the messiah. By doing so, they begin to live out what Paul would later say in Ephesians 2 and 3, that the “mystery of the gospel,” hidden from other generations but revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been welcomed into God’s family. The walls of division between Jews and Gentiles have been torn down.

This happens, Paul says, because Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of hostility” and “reconciled us both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross.”

The gifts of the wise men foreshadow that reconciling death of Jesus. They bring gold because he is a king, incense because he is God, and myrrh because it is a burial spice, foretelling Jesus’s death.

2. They brought their unique treasures.

Secondly, coming from “the East,” the gifts the Magi bring represent the cultures and places of their home. Myrrh came from Arabia and Ethiopia. It was imported to Israel. Likewise, frankincense. This is significant as a picture of each of the world’s cultures offering to God their unique treasures. One day people from every tribe, language, people, and nation will worship Christ. They will do that in part by offering back to God the most beautiful aspects of their own culture. We see a picture of this in Revelation 21 where the “kings of the earth bring . . . the glory and honor of the nations” into the holy city. The best aspects, the treasures of every culture, are invited into the kingdom of God and offered back to the Creator who is the giver of every good gift.

What about your culture? What gifts have been planted deep in your tribe? How about in the people group you are working with? Of course it’s easier to point out the flaws of various cultures. Goodness knows mine has some issues: We think we can fix every problem. We’ve taken individualism to amazing heights (At least I have). And we seem to have an insatiable appetite for more and more stuff! On the other hand, I believe God has also knit into American culture special traits and abilities designed to contribute to his kingdom, to be offered to him in worship. Treading lightly here, I believe God has given Americans a deeply rooted sense that things can get better. We believe that suffering can decrease, hope can increase, and that we can be agents to that end.

Perhaps you’ve seen similar giftedness in your culture or cultures with which you’ve worked. I think of the depth and passion I’ve experienced praying with Korean believers, the warmth of family loyalty shared between a Memon mother and her kids, or the great hope and persistence that carries my Gambian friends in search of a safe and secure life in Sicily. The glory of God is reflected in the many thousands of facets of the peoples he has created.

The great missional hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” wraps up with these words, “Let every creature rise and bring peculiar honors to our King.” Indeed. We’ve all been made in the likeness of God, but all with unique gifts reflective of our own place and time and people.

3. They asked the right question.

Finally, I appreciate the magi because their words, though brief, are most important: “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” Certainly they said more. Imagine the words it must have taken to convince Mary and Joseph that they really could keep the gifts! (And I hope at least one of them played “I’ve got your nose” with Jesus.) But all Matthew sees fit to record is this question: “Where is he? Where is the one?”

Oh how I need to ask that question. Where is the king in my life? Where is the king in this current political climate? Where is Jesus when 65 million people, more than ever before in history, are displaced from their homes?

Even as I ask that question, here is my hope for this new year: That more people from more people groups will ask along with the magi, “Where is the one born king of the Jews. We want to worship him.”

May those of us who know him be on hand to show them.

Thanks to Rev. Chris Brown for his insightful thinking and gracious sharing. You’ll find his sermon here.

» Read previous articles by Shane Bennett or respond to this one on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

World News Briefs

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_largeMissions Catalyst News Briefs 01.04.17

  1. INDONESIA: Christian Governor Insists No Insult Intended
  2. ALGERIA: Family Fears for Life of Christian Imprisoned for Blasphemy
  3. TURKEY: Update on American Pastor Andrew Brunson
  4. NORTH AFRICA: Why Focus on Nomads?
  5. UKRAINE: Seminar/Retreat for Pastors from Conflict Zone

Greetings,

It’s that time of year for a look back and a look forward. Some of my favorite news sources delivered:

An article from Justin Long on New Year’s Day highlights the just-published Status of Global Christianity summary report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, and observes that “between now and 2050 we will add another 600 million unevangelized individuals—about twice the size of the United States—who will likely not hear the gospel once in their lifetime.” Sobering. So is news from another source which asserts that around the world, a Christian is martyred every six minutes.

An item from Brigada Today also includes an analysis of ministry progress and challenges, this time by providing a rare glimpse into the lives of Christians in the North African country of Tunisia. Tunisian believers are an estimated .2 percent of the population. Read and watch the beautiful multimedia presentation.

As for the present, please pray for Governor Ahok in Indonesia as well as Slimane Bouhafs in Algeria and Andrew Brunson in Turkey. Both are imprisoned for their witness. See below.

Looking ahead,
Pat

INDONESIA: Christian Governor Insists No Insult Intended

Source: World Watch Monitor, December 13, 2017

Indonesian Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”) fought back tears during the first day of his blasphemy trial [December 13].

Ahok—only the second Christian and the second governor of Chinese descent to lead the Indonesian capital city, Jakarta—is alleged to have “misused” a Qur’anic verse (which, some say, suggests Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims) during a speech in early October.

Some Muslim leaders accused him of insulting Islam by quoting from the Qur’an. He apologized, but said his comments were directed at politicians “incorrectly” using the verse against him and not a criticism of the verse itself.

The trial is widely seen as a test of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation’s stance on religious freedom, since the country has a large Christian minority.

It was broadcast live on TV and Ahok continued to protest his innocence, telling the court: “I had no intention of insulting Muslims or insulting the clergy. On that basis, I plead with the judges to consider my exception plea.”

» Read full story.

» Also read The Story Behind a Massive Muslim Protest against a Christian Governor (Christian Science Monitor).

ALGERIA: Family Fears for Life of Christian Imprisoned for Blasphemy

Source: Morning Star News, November 29, 2016

The daughter of an Algerian Christian sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of blaspheming Islam fears for his life, religious freedom advocates said.

Although the date when the assault was set to happen is not publically known, advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) received the first reports about the plans on November 14. A group of inmates planned to attack [Slimane] Bouhafs because he objected to the views of an imam who publicly insulted Christians and Christianity in Algeria, MEC’s analyst on religious freedom in Algeria told Morning Star News.

“Bouhafs was defending Christianity, calling for more religious freedom and freedom of speech, which provoked the attempted attack,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

An inmate who became aware of the plans warned prison guards, who separated Bouhafs from the inmates who sought to attack him before they could carry it out.

Bouhafs suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which causes extremely painful swelling of his joints. He controls the swelling by eating a special, controlled diet that is unavailable in jail.

“At the end of September when his lawyer saw him, and early in October when his daughter visited him, his daughter reported that he had severely lost weight to a degree where it was hard to recognize him,” the analyst said. “The lawyer said he looked very frail and weak.”

» Read full story.