USA: Faith Takes Flight

Source: ASSIST News Service, January 7, 2018
Editor’s note: Did you know January 5 was “National Bird Day”?

“Consider the birds” [Jesus] reminded the disciples as he discussed how God cares for them. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” he asks his followers, stating, “Not one will be forgotten before God,” inferring the Lord will not forget his children. Jesus also compared birds to the kingdom of God: “The birds come and make nests.” Jesus references birds when discussing the fact that he has no home: “The birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The Holy Spirit—in the form of a dove—descended upon Jesus at his baptism. Roughly 300 passages found in the Bible reference birds.

Reformer Martin Luther, called birds “our schoolmasters.” The Christian poet and clergyman George Herbert used birds in some of his poems. C.S Lewis used birds throughout his Chronicles of Narnia, showing their variety and beauty, naming over a dozen in Aslan’s kingdom.

Probably the best-known bird-watching clergyman was John Stott. As a great enthusiast of birds, Stott called his admiration of birds, “orni-theology.” One of his best-loved books is Birds Our Teachers. In this work he relates birds to subjects ranging from repentance, self-esteem, gratitude, work, freedom, joy, and love. Birds are more than just feathery fowl, but teachers tethering us to God’s grace and creativity, helping our faith take flight.

» Read full story to consider what we can learn from the birds.

» This article reminded me of what my friend, blogger Bev Ewart wrote about the Goose Poop and Glory as well as The Goldfinch.

INDIA: Man “Converted by Carol Singers” Now Claims Membership in Militant Hindu Group

Source: World Watch Monitor, December 19, 2017

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made [December 14] to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement.” The “group,” [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here,” reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.” Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ.”

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest anti-conversion laws in the country.

» Full story offers some explanation but leaves questions unanswered.

» Also related to regional religious conflict: A highly anticipated Bollywood blockbuster has been delayed after a politician from India’s governing party offered a bounty on the heads of the movie’s star and director, claiming the film distorts Hindu legends (The Independent). The plight of Hindus in Bangladesh reportedly continues to deteriorate (Foreign Policy).

NORTH KOREA: Five Gut-Wrenching Facts

Source: Open Doors, December 13, 2017

In a new report on North Korean prison camps, one of the judges, a former child survivor from Auschwitz, said the conditions were as bad—or even worse—than what he witnessed in the Nazi concentration camps.

The report shared by the IBA (International Bar Association) War Committee offers chilling details from personal testimonies, video, transcripts, and scholarly works about the state of North Korea’s prison camps. We share these facts to help you understand the severe mistreatment, injustice, and abuse many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are subjected to daily within North Korea’s infamous prison camp system.

  1. There are an estimated 80,000-130,000 political prisoners held in North Korea’s prison camps.
  2. Inside the camps, prisoners are often “tortured and killed on account of their religious affiliation, with officials instructed ‘to wipe out the seed of [Christian] reactionaries.’”
  3. In one account, guards killed a prisoner’s newborn baby by feeding it to the guard dogs.
  4. The report also explains the fact that routine public executions are carried out in front of both children and adults, “designed to subdue the prison population.” In another case, the prison guards executed starving prisoners “found digging for edible plants on a mountainside.”
  5. There were many more cases reported of inhumane treatment, deliberate starvation, cruelty, abuse, rape, forced abortions, and murder. Some of the details in the report are too graphic to share.

As hard as it is to read—or even imagine—this is a reality. We can’t afford to look away from this—or to let our Christian family in North Korea feel isolated and alone.

» full story inluddes links to download the report or an executive summary.

» To learn about one ministry serving North Korean defectors, see English Opens Doors for North Koreans (One Mission Society).

FINLAND: Reaching Russians

Source: Resonate Global Mission, November 16, 2017

For many years, Alexander has sensed God calling him to plant a new church for Russians. Now in the last months, that vision is taking shape in new and exciting ways.

A Russian himself, Alexander joined a group of other leaders from his church and around the region for a leadership training event led by a missionary. Many in the group were interested in planting churches for Russian speakers outside of Russia.

“We met almost every month, and Alexander’s strategies for church planting grew over the course of the year,” says the missionary.

Through the process, Alexander felt he now had the new skills that he needed to take the next step. He answered a call from his sending church to plant a new church in Helsinki, Finland, a part of Europe with a quickly growing Russian population.

Alexander secured a job in Helsinki and started getting to know the city, connecting with other Christians as well as Russian speakers. One of the most important connections he made was with Saalem Church, a church that has a unique ministry of reaching out to the needs of the ethnic groups represented in the city.

“Saalem Church seems to do a great job embracing the immigrant population of Helsinki,” adds the missionary. “We attended the service there on a Sunday, and there were groups of people from all backgrounds.”

As Alexander’s relationship with this Finnish church grew, he shared his vision with members there, and they too supported his desire to share the gospel with Russian speakers. Saalem offered Alexander a space to worship and spiritual oversight, as well as visa support.

Today about 20 people are involved in the church for Russian speakers.

» Read full story.

» See also a thoughtful and gracious testimony, this one from a Mexican-American, about how the immigrant experience lends itself to encountering God (Christianity Today).

USA: Transforming Virtual Conversations

Source: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, December 12, 2017

Angelo Blancaflor became a missional gamer during his third year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) when he realized something about his fellow gamers. He had been meeting with them online for years but knew little about their offline lives.

In high school Angelo and three online friends shifted their sleep schedules for almost a year in order to be awake from 1:00am to 4:00am Pacific Time so they could watch a game being streamed. “We bonded deeply because we were all a little bit crazy at those hours of the night, watching games and talking about whatever else, waiting for the games to start,” he said.

Five years later, they were still gaming friends, but not much more than that. So Angelo began to ask them about their families and what they did when they weren’t gaming. Eventually he asked if they could meet in person. As they established a new level of trust with each other, and developed curiosity about each other’s lives, sharing about his Christian faith began to naturally become part of the conversation.

» Full story explores Angelo’s thoughts about the opportunity and challenge of transforming virtual conversations into face-to-face evangelism and Bible study (something international missionaries are experiencing as well).

» See also Latest Trends in International Student Enrollment, which includes ideas for reaching international students on your local college campus (Collegiate Collective).

World News Briefs

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saudi-Christmas-2Indian Christians celebrate Christmas in Saudi Arabia. Image: Open Doors.

In This Issue:

  1. ARAB WORLD: His First Christmas
  2. THAILAND: Christian Captives Set Free
  3. KENYA: “If the Witchdoctor Is Saved, Jesus Is Real”
  4. SAUDI ARABIA: Christmas in a Closed Country
  5. MIDDLE EAST: Working Out with Refugees

Greetings,

Don’t you love it when one of your favorite tunes gets rewritten with BETTER lyrics? It seems like heaven gets a hold of it and remakes it in the service of a greater truth. For example:

  • Did you know that the original melody of Hark the Herald Angels Sing was considered too somber so a new one was sought? Music written to celebrate the invention of the printing press was dusted off. Voila!
  • Everyone knows the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah.” Cloverton wrote Christ-focused lyrics that …well, just listen. Wow.
  • Finally, a gem I just found (thanks to OMF UK). Check out King’s Kaleidoscope’s All Glory be to Christ. Recognize the tune?

Merry Christmas!
Pat

ARAB WORLD: His First Christmas

Source: Pioneers-USA, December 2017

Remember the old chat rooms from the days when the Internet was new? That method of communication is still alive and well in the Arab world, and Pioneers use it every day to talk to Muslims.

Internet ads, social media posts and websites draw Arab Muslims who are curious about Christianity. And since the beginning of 2017, our responders have had the privilege of leading 427 to Christ. Many of these will be celebrating Christmas for the first time this year.

One of them, “Kasim,” wrote saying,

“I am 26 years old. I see light in Christianity and in Jesus, my salvation. The truth is my life is not a peaceful walk; it is full of doubts and things that do not suit me in the Muslim society. I am troubled about religion, the judgement day and many things that bother me … I saw the movie of Jesus and I was deeply touched by Jesus’ life and sacrifice … So I decided to walk in the path of Jesus… I hope you can help me to know more about Christianity, so that I may suffer less from the impact of the terror (the slaughtering and the killing) in the name of Islam. I almost became an atheist … I want to know more about Jesus. Thank you.”

[Kasim] is now following Christ and studying Matthew. The team is organizing local follow up and fellowship for Kasim, who lives in the Middle East.

Mark, who heads up this ministry team—Arab World Media—says, “Pray that they would experience peace and joy this Christmas, (their first as [believers]) despite the challenges they face.” Will you join us in praying for Kasim and the 426 other new Arab Christians as they celebrate the birth of Christ and grow in their new faith?

» Full story with picture. Another story from Pioneers reports how a Yemeni refugee in Turkey heard the gospel.

THAILAND: Christian Captives Set Free

Source: Christian Freedom International, December 14, 2017

The bad news came as Christian Freedom International’s volunteers were distributing food and provisions to refugees from Pakistan last month. A Christian family who is hiding in Thailand while seeking asylum was arrested while on the way to pick up the aid and food packet.

“We prayed together from the core of our heart,” said a CFI volunteer, “and in the evening we heard the good news that immigration released them. Really, it’s a miracle.”

The UN says over 11,000 Pakistanis are seeking asylum in Thailand. All of them are Christian, according to a report by British Parliamentarians who work on International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The flood of Christians fleeing Pakistan began with the rise of terrorist attacks on churches and false accusations of blasphemy that fuel mob violence. Christians regularly face discrimination in jobs, the judicial system, education and housing.

While waiting on the UN to act on the backlog of requests for asylum, many have overstayed their visas. With no legal status in Thailand, they cannot work legally and many children are unable to attend school. They stay hidden in small, crowded apartments and survive on day-to-day jobs and donations.

» Full story with pictures.

» Readers might also be interested in reading about a recent evangelistic crusade in neighboring Vietnam (Christian Post).

KENYA: “If the Witchdoctor Is Saved, Jesus Is Real”

KENYA: “If the Witchdoctor Is Saved, Jesus Is Real”

Source: Global Disciples, via God Reports, December 15, 2017

[Global Disciples] recently had a report from Mutunga, who directs a discipleship-mission program in Kenya.

Some of the disciple-makers went to a remote region to share the gospel. And they met Lizabet, a single woman, who was also the local witchdoctor. But in conversation with her, they learned her son had been missing for five years. He had just disappeared! And there had been no word in all that time.

The disciple-makers shared the Word of God with her, told her about Jesus, and prayed with her, especially for her lost son.

Sometime later, the team got word that Lizabet’s son had returned. So they went back to see the family.

Having seen how Jesus heard and answered the prayer for her son, Lizabet was eager to put her faith in Jesus for salvation. She gave up being a witchdoctor, discarding her old ways, and now she hosts a new fellowship in her home. And people are getting saved each week!

Now the word in her village is that “if the son is back and the witchdoctor is saved, then Jesus is real.”

For that, we give glory to God. Thanks to work of Jesus, his Son, a lost son came home, and a witchdoctor was transformed, as a church is being planted!

» Read full story, and go to the original source for more stories like this from Kenya and other locations.

SAUDI ARABIA: Christmas in a Closed Country

Source: Open Doors, December 15, 2017

It’s night in one of Saudi Arabia’s cities. The streets are empty. Two Indian men can be seen walking on the sidewalk. When they knock on a nondescript door, it is opened and immediately closed behind them.

Inside, they take off their shoes and enter a meeting room decorated with Christmas stars and garlands. They join a handful of worshippers already there. Over the next hour, over a hundred or more Indian believers will arrive here to celebrate Christmas.

Most of them have low-paying jobs in large Saudi companies or households; they are construction workers, stone cutters, electricians and cleaners. But tonight, there are no differences between them: these men and women are followers of Christ about to be encouraged and then sent back into the world with a calling to spread the light of Jesus everywhere they go.

When the celebrations begin, there’s no doubt that this is an Indian celebration. The instruments, the music; when you close your eyes you feel as if you’re right in the heart of India. Taking turns, many of the worshippers sing worship songs in their mother tongue, glorifying God who sent his Son into the world.

» Read full story.

» Also worth noting: Christian Schools in India Warned Against Celebrating Christmas (International Christian Concern).