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IRAQ/SYRIA: Former Fighter Prays for the Islamic State

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:41

Source: Prayercast, February 2, 2015

Up to 1.2 million people were displaced by the violence in Iraq in 2014 alone. Millions more live in fear. Massacres, beheadings, crucifixions, abductions, and sexual violence are rampant. Islamic State has attempted to eliminate entire Christian communities. As many as eight million people are believed to now live under the partial, or complete, control of IS.

This modern-day nightmare has not only darkened the landscape of Iraq and Syria, but the whole world, with over 11,000 people from abroad joining the ranks of the 30-50,000 Islamic State militants. Teaching an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, they believe they are the only true believers and see the rest of the world as their enemy. Using violence to get what they want, their goal is the creation of an Islamic caliphate ruled by a single political and religious leader, ruling Muslim communities around the world.

Despite these gruesome realities, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This is a spiritual battle against our adversary, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

We hate the darkness and underlying evil, and we grieve the resulting bloodshed and pain. Yet Jesus still says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God’s love reaches not only those suffering under this oppression, but it reaches even into the ranks of Islamic State. Just as God transformed Saul into Paul through an encounter with Jesus, so can he transform today’s persecutors into tomorrow’s evangelists.

» Read full story and watch the related Prayercast video.

» See also two inspiring pieces: a video about an Iraqi Christian child extending forgiveness to those who displaced her family (SAT-7) and the story How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt (Christianity Today).

USA: Church Filled With Muslims Every Sunday

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:40

Source: Godreports, February 25, 2015

Pastor Adrian Rodriguez has been preaching the gospel, translated by his wife, to about 30 people every Sunday in a church on the outskirts of Hartford, Connecticut, and not one of the congregants is Christian.

“We’re dealing with very hardcore Muslims,” he says of the immigrant refugees from the Middle East who are drawn to his church. “They’re very indoctrinated. But God is speaking to their hearts.”

Pastor Adrian’s response to America’s burgeoning Muslim enclaves is perhaps Christianity’s best model: View them with eyes of compassion, not with eyes of suspicion.

» Read full story.

WORLD: Are Refugees the Problem?

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:37

Source: various, via Pat Noble

Three of the four gospel writers record that Jesus warned that in the last days, “nation shall rise up against nation.” For many years I assumed this meant political nations going to war as we saw in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Greek word translated nation, though, is the same as is used in the Great Commission of Mathew 28, which says “…go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

While reading headlines for this edition I found many stories about “ethne rising up against ethne.” Take a look:

» Foreign Shop Owner Set Alight in South Africa (Al Jazeera)
» Cracking Down on Illegal Workers (Crossroads Arabia)
» Pakistan: Stop Forced Return of Afghans (Human Rights Watch)
» Two Charts Showing That “Deterring” Migrant Boats Is Failing (IRIN)
» What Would You Do if ISIS Was Approaching and Safety Was Only 70 Miles across the Sea? (The Independent)
» Afghan Refugee on National Geographic Cover Embroiled in ID Row and Vulnerable Families Bear the Brunt of Norway’s Crackdown on Asylum Seekers (The Guardian)

INDIA: Veteran Pastor’s Gentle Answers Turn Away Wrath

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:35

Source: Christian Aid Mission, February 19, 2015

Adept at gently answering the hostilities of radical Hindus, threatening Muslims, and suspicious government authorities, a pastor in northern India found himself facing an inflammatory media question last December.

Amid a roiling controversy about religious conversion in India, an interviewer from a Delhi television station asked the pastor and leader of an evangelistic ministry in Uttar Pradesh, whether conversions should be allowed. High-level Hindu nationalists were proposing that conversions be prohibited.

Working in an area where harassment from radical Hindus preempts public evangelistic events and nearly half of the residents are Muslims whose prohibition of leaving Islam sometimes leads to violence, the pastor appeared to be driven into a corner wherein anything he said would pour fuel onto the fires of controversy.

He surprised the journalist by answering that he was not only against forced conversion, but “totally against any religious conversion.”

“Jesus never taught about religious conversion,” Sankar said. “He taught about conversion of the heart, and that we preach.”

The interviewer pressed him, asking him if he converted people.

“I cannot convert people. I teach them from the Bible what we believe, and the law in our country is that everyone is free to preach his or her religion, and everyone is free to change his religion,” he said. “But if you want to talk about that, I share what I believe, and it’s Jesus who converts them. It is Jesus who changes their heart, and if they start coming to my church, it is not my problem. It is his problem. Go and ask him!”

People in India, he said, don’t want to hear about Christ. They already know about him, with many counting him among their hundreds of gods. Rather, they want to see him.

» Read full story.

CYPRUS: Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians Envision Reconciliation

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:33

Source: Lausanne Movement, February 12, 2015

Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians met together in Limassol, Cyprus, January 26-30 to discuss, pray, and work towards reconciliation.

The Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine (LIRIP), an initiative of the Lausanne Movement, hosted the conference. Its vision is “to promote reconciliation within the body of Christ and our wider communities in Israel and Palestine by creating a network that encourages, under the auspices of the Lausanne Movement, models of gospel-based, Christ-centered reconciliation that will have prophetic impact in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Each day the participants studied Through My Enemy’s Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel–Palestine, by participants Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden.

Richard Harvey, British Messianic Jewish theologian and Co-Chair of LIRIP, said:

“Our discussions were cordial and mutually respectful, but we did not flinch from addressing difficult issues and frankly expressing our disagreements. Salim and Lisa’s book is a most valuable resource for all who are interested in the challenges and possibilities of reconciliation in the region.”

Palestinian Christian Munther Isaac, Co-Chair of LIRIP and Professor at Bethlehem Bible College, added:

“We met each day to pray and read the Scriptures together, sharing our perspectives and recognizing our differences. It is important for our communities to talk to one another openly and in a Christian spirit. Reconciliation in our context is a very challenging and difficult endeavor, but the cross compels us to walk in this path.”

» Read full story.

VIDEO: Is Every Christian a Missionary?

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 09:47

Source: The Mission Table

Every follower of Christ is a missionary… or are they? Missions has traditionally consisted of international or cross-cultural ministry for spiritual purposes, says Matthew Ellison of Sixteen:Fifteen. But today in many churches missions has come to include outreach ministries that are within our own community and culture. This broadening definition of missions has inevitably led to a philosophy that says every follower of Christ is a missionary. What are the implications of this philosophy? Is it biblical? Is it helpful? Does it lead to more missions work being accomplished, or less?

This is the first in a series of free, web-based dialogues about critical, controversial claims made about missions today. Each includes a video about 15 minutes in length, followed by a live webinar discussion a few weeks later (in this case, March 3). A May episode will explore whether native missionaries are more effective, and one in July will ask, do missionaries destroy cultures? If debate is not your cup of tea, these conversations may make you squirm, but they may also make you think (and see another point of view).

» Join the conversation. Watch the first video or subscribe here to be notified when each video episode is released and registration for each live webinar begins.

BOOK: Overcoming Obstacles to Serving

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 09:46

Hold Fast: The Mission of God & the Obstacles of Man, by Josh Cooper. Book Villages, 2013. 160 pages.

In his ministry with The Traveling Team, Josh Cooper has visited more than 150 U.S. college campuses to teach students about God’s heart for the world and challenge them to consider their part in world missions. He came to recognize nine frequent obstacles these students faced which kept them from full-time missionary service: unawareness of God’s mission purposes, a focus on needs closer to home, materialism, romantic relationships, family opposition, theological issues (e.g., pluralism), uncertainty about their calling, the burden of debt, and concerns about raising support.

Hold Fast addresses each one of these struggles, shares stories of those who have overcome them, and provides encouragement to keep moving moving forward. This is the kind of book you could put into the hands of college students to help them recognize what might be holding them back and find courage to press on. Better yet, ask them to read it and then discuss the points they find most relevant. Some of the illustrations, drawn from a variety of sources, are quite powerful and memorable. I may snag some of them for my own use!

It should be noted that this book does not attempt to provide a balanced view of ways one might live a missional life; it’s really written for would-be missionaries and encourages them to consider serving among the millions of people without access to the gospel. In places it seems to assume too close an equation between following God and going to the unreached.

» See the book website to learn more. You can purchase the ebook for US$7.99; the paperback is US$14.99. Bulk discounts are available. You might also want to learn more about The Traveling Team and see if they’re coming to your region.

BOOKS: Disciple Making Movements Books on Sale

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 09:44

In January we reviewed Contagious Disciple Making, the new book from our friends at City Team and Thomas Nelson. The Kindle edition of this book, by David and Paul Watson, and its two companion volumes Miraculous Movements (by Jerry Trousdale) and The Father Glorified (by Patrick Robertson and David Watson) are all currently on sale at Amazon. All three tell the stories and describe the methods behind some of the world’s fast-growing disciple making movements.

» Buy Contagious Disciple Making or either of the other two books for US$2.99 (if you live in the US). We don’t know how long the sale will last.

ARTICLE: Where Do We Start?

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 09:44

Source: Catalyst Services

Maybe your church finds itself at a ministry crossroads, and you don’t know where do start. Where Do We Start is a thoughtful, practical article with suggestions for churches asking these questions:

  • Where do we start to begin missions in our church?
  • Where do we start as new mission leaders?
  • Where do we start to ignite excitement if interest has waned?
  • Where do we start to develop clear missions strategy?
  • Where do we start to move from good to great?

» Download the PDF and share it with your church. Readers might also appreciate Catalyst Services’ list of more than 150 Short-term Ministry Ideas. This may help you brainstorm about the kinds of projects you want to pursue or support.

EVENTS: March Calendar

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 09:43

Source: Missions Catalyst Events Calendar

March 1-6, ABIDE (Joplin, MO, USA). Re-entry and debriefing for singles, couples, and families provided by TRAIN International.

March 4-8, TENTmaking Course (Fort Myers, FL, USA). Provided by Global Opportunities.

March 5, E-Care: Using Email as an Effective Tool for Member Care (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.

March 6-7, People Raising Conference (Chicago, IL, USA). Be equipped for raising personal support.

March 6-7, Muslim ConneXion (Portland, OR, USA). Learn how to engage your Muslim neighbor; an annual event.

March 7, Bridges Seminar (Indianapolis, IN, USA). Building bridges to reach Muslims. Provided by Crescent Project; regularly offered in various locations.

March 8-13, Launch Training (Richmond, VA, USA). Be equipped to work abroad and make disciples; sponsored by IMB and Skybridge, open to all.

March 11-12, Support Raising Bootcamp (Tucson, AZ, USA). From Support Raising Solutions, regularly held in various locations.

March 12, The Mapping Center (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.

March 18, Thinking and Acting Globally in Christian Mission (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.

March 20-21, Kingdom Business Conference (Charleston, SC, USA). Provided by Charleston Southern University.

March 21, Disciple Making Movements Training (Plano, TX, USA). Provided by Act Beyond.

March 23 to June 13, Encountering the World of Islam (online). Twelve-week class will help you discover God’s heart for Muslims, offered online several times a year.

March 25, Moving from a Reactive to a Proactive Mission Vision (online). Webinar from Sixteen:Fifteen; free.

March 27-29, The Journey Deepens (Farmington, MI, USA). A weekend retreat for prospective missionaries; regularly held in various locations.

March 27-29, Jesus to the Nations (Halifax, NS, Canada). Free, annual, community-based mission festival for all ages.

March 30 to April 25, COMPASS (Palmer Lake, CO, USA). Language and culture acquisition course from Missionary Training International; held multiple times throughout the year.

» View the complete calendar and/or submit an item.

Missions Catalyst News Briefs

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 18:08

In This Issue: Celebrating Jesus, Stories from around the World

Greetings!

Holidays and festivals are on my mind once again. I learned that Hindu festivals take place somewhere in India 255 days of the year! This does not include secular/national or cultural holidays like Punjab’s “rural Olympics” (don’t miss it!). I was privileged to witness the Magh Mela and Sankranti in India last month. I believe Indians know how to celebrate like no other culture.

Though Hindu extremists warn couples not to celebrate Hindu extremists warn couples not to celebrate Valentine’s Day with all of its Western trappings, some apparently celebrate a whole Valentine’s WEEK!

Mardi Gras and Lent have come while I’ve been wrapping up this edition of Newsbriefs, and the Chinese are beginning the year of the sheep/goat.

Holidays and festivals say a lot about a people. What do they value? What are the stories behind these “feast days?”

If any of this stirs your interest, check out this website. Or if you’re a little less adventurous, check out using the Christian calendar as an opportunity to throw parties. However and where ever you celebrate, though, know that the best party is yet to come!

Celebrating Jesus,
Pat

 

INDIA: Dreams from God

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 18:05

Source: ActBeyond, February 16, 2015

Two weeks ago Brother “Joshi” was leading his small congregation in Uttar Pradesh. Joshi is a young, part-time farmer, full-time leader and trainer in an ongoing movement in North India, and also pastor of his own congregation which he leads when he is in town.

During the Word discussion time in the worship service, Joshi noticed a man standing outside the door of their small meeting space. He saw the man had a skull-cap on. This man was a Muslim! There are hundreds of Muslims in this village, [but] it’s pretty much unheard of for a Muslim to show interest in a Christian worship service. Muslims in India stay pretty well segregated from both the Hindu majority and from the Christian minority.

Joshi invited the man, “Please come in and join us.” He came and sat on the floor where everyone else was. He listened to them discuss the Word together and then Brother Joshi exhorted the community about generosity and giving. Even the Muslim man participated in the discussion.

After the service, the man shared his story. “Every day for the last three days I’ve dreamt the same dream. I’ve dreamt of your building, this building where the Christians meet. I told my wife about my dream. I told her we should become Christian, but she said we can’t because we are born Muslim. That’s simply what we are. Still, I kept having the dream until finally I knew I needed to come. I feel very good being with you this morning, and I want to become a Christian.”

» Read full story.

» See also When a Veiled Woman Visits Your Church (Mission of God blog).

WORLD: Migrant “Ghost Ships” Abandoned at Sea

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 18:03

Source: 24/7 Prayer, February 17, 2015

In recent months, thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn Syria, where almost 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced have been found on large, crewless freighters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Smugglers have found a new, wholesale means of transporting refugees who have fled to Turkey. They buy derelict freighters ready for salvage, pack their holds with refugees at $4,000-$8,000 per head, then set sail in the Mediterranean, pointed toward southern Europe. After the voyage is underway, the crew abandons the ship, leaving the refugees on their own.

Recently, a ship was set on autopilot running full speed across the sea. Fortunately, the vessel ran out of gas. When rescue crews boarded, they discovered 359 illegal migrants on board. Another freighter, with 970 people locked in the rusty hold, was found adrift near Greece.

This perilous form of human trafficking has become a profitable business for organized criminals, who fear getting caught with banned cargo such as drugs or weapons. People smuggling, an international crime, is on the rise.

  • Ask God to provide safety to those seeking refuge, who are willing to risk their lives through this perilous travel.
  • Pray for peace, salvation, and restoration for individuals seeking asylum. May they find shelter in legal, peaceful living conditions.
  • Pray that these smugglers are identified and their criminal activity stopped.
  • Please pray for these asylum seekers to be intercepted, rescued, and restored.

» Read full story.

» See also these stories about refugees stuck in limbo: Western Sahara’s Stranded Refugees Consider Renewal of Morocco Conflict (The Guardian), Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for India (IPS News), and No-Man’s Land: the Iraqis Trapped between IS and the Kurds (IRIN News).

PAKISTAN: Son of Imam Follows Christ

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 18:03

Source: Mission Network News, February 5, 2015

The Operation Mobilization Pakistan team shares with people about God in towns and marketplaces, while also distributing literature that talks about how they can have a relationship with God’s Son.

One man took a leaflet. He read it and re-read it, but it did not satisfy him. He wanted to know more about the God who wants a relationship with ordinary people. So he began to search for others who knew this God.

Then he met believers in Jesus. They had a personal relationship with God and seemed to know him the way the man hungered for. It excited him, and his questions poured out.

They began to meet regularly, and soon the man learned a lot about Jesus and salvation. He read the Bible for himself and accepted Jesus as his personal savior and friend. As his faith grew, he made a public step of faith by being baptized as a Christ follower.

However, others in his village were concerned with his new faith. They went to his father and complained that his son had become a believer in Jesus. What was he, an imam—a Muslim religious leader—going to do about it?

“My son is adult and mature; he is accountable to God for his deeds, just as I am accountable to God for my deeds,” replied the father. “If he has become a follower of Jesus, he will have to give an answer to God why he did this. However, I can see he is not stealing things or not doing adultery; he is not doing any wrong thing to create problems for others. He knows what is going on, and his God knows it, too.”

» Read full story.

LIBYA: 21 Egyptian Christians Beheaded

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 18:01

Source: WEA Religious Liberty Prayer News, February 17, 2015

On Sunday [February 15], the Islamic State (IS) released a video allegedly showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by militants pledging support to the IS in Libya.

Subsequent to the video release, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi confirmed that those killed in the video were Egyptian Christians taken hostage in Libya and announced seven days of national mourning.

In response to the killings, Egypt’s military carried out raids early on Monday against IS camps, training sites, and weapons storage areas.

  • Pray for Jesus’ comforting presence over the families grieving the loss of loved ones.
  • Pray for God’s protection over all Christians in Libya and across all the conflict areas in the Middle East.
  • Pray that those perpetrating violence would experience a change in heart, repent, and come to know God.
  • Pray for an end to all bloodshed in the Middle East.

» Read additional stories from this prayer bulletin.

» Editor’s note: Please also pray for the people of El-Aour, the small Egyptian town that was home to 13 of the men killed (NPR) and read a letter from the head of the Bible Society of Egypt. See also Murder of 21 Coptic Christians (Middle East Concern).

THAILAND: Bangkok Church Has Big Vision

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 17:59

Source: Godreports, February 17, 2015

In a storefront location on a bustling street near two malls and a university lies a glittering diamond in God’s kingdom, poised for growth in a nation where only one percent follows Jesus.

“We started with three people,” says Gai Tanangunvirog. She and her husband Khajorn lead Tai Church, which has grown to 100 and already planted five churches in other provinces of Thailand.

More than 70 percent of the church are former Buddhists. “Every week my staff shares the gospel,” notes Pastor Khajorn, who has an evangelist’s heart and is a sought-after speaker in other churches in Bangkok.

“We have a big dream,” says Gai. A decade ago Gai says the Lord revealed in a dream the church would grow to 60,000 people. “It’s such a big number it’s hard to imagine,” she confesses.

“People ask me why we’re so busy. I tell them our vision is not from man but from God.”

» Read full story.

Practical Mobilization

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 08:00
Sowing among the Seedless: Learning to Love Jesus among the Unengaged

By Shane Bennett

Few things feel more productive, more helpful, more on task to me than speaking at a class like Perspectives or Pathways. I love it! The content is spot on and the classes tend to gather the coolest people in a given church or city, so it’s a privilege to chat with them. I’ll often start by asking students to consider why they’re taking the course. I want them to have solid motivation to do the hard work the course asks for. Without fail, some in each class say they’re taking it to find out what they should do with their lives, specifically what God wants them to do. It’s the classic, “What’s God’s will for my life?” Or, as poet, Mary Oliver frames it, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I love to hear people ask this because I love people who care what God thinks, what God is doing, and what God may have in mind for their hours and days. The down side is that the question can paralyze. Most of us reading this article are part of a set of humanity with no shortage of options. If you decided it was a good idea you could shift houses, change jobs, or even move to a different country. If you could do anything, how can you choose the next one thing to do? Kafka said, “I am free and that is why I am lost.” That’s a little heady (and depressing) for me, but I get the point.

To help people feel a little better, I’ll often tell them, “Good news: I actually know God’s will for your life!” Of course I don’t, really. Well, sort of. What I don’t have sorted is where my personal (or American) arrogance ends and solid understanding of the Bible and the world begins. Like I could really know God’s will for the life of an almost total stranger!

Yet this much I know for pretty sure. This I offer to you, your friends, the people you go to church with, myself, any of us who care what God thinks and want to answer the call of Jesus to follow him: Go where the glow is low.

Go Where the Glow Is Low

I really wish I could remember who I swiped that pithy little gut punch from, but I don’t. I didn’t make it up, but heard it from someone and it seemed both real and true. “Bloom where you are planted” may make a nice coffee mug, but “go where the glow is low” makes a better tattoo! And it’s more biblical. God told Abraham he wanted his blessing to be pressed into every family on the planet. Jesus told his disciples that the “gospel of the kingdom would be preached in the whole world as a witness to all nations” before the end would come. And his disciple John apparently saw that happen, recording in Rev. 7.9, “…I looked, and 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…”

Assuming we’re in the middle of this amazing story, clearly the mandate that we (the collection of all of us who love Jesus and try, however falteringly, to follow him) have is to take the gospel of the kingdom where it isn’t seen or known yet.

Or in other words, go where the glow is low.

Where No Seeds Are Planted

One of the clearer ways to describe the lowest of the “low glow” areas is the term “unengaged.” Unengaged describes people groups among whom no one is living for the gospel, reaching out in the local language and working toward discipleship movements.  No harvesting, no growth, not even any planting. Seedless. If you’re a grape or a watermelon, seedless is good. If you’re waiting for an initial outbreak of God’s kingdom in your midst, seedless is bad.

Who’s seedless? When we’re looking at a shifting scene, numbers will vary. Reliable information, however, indicates around 1400 unengaged people groups. Frontiers sees Muslims comprising 1100 of those. Steve Richardson (of Pioneers) points out 45 Buddhist groups and 139 Hindu groups too. Completely unengaged. These are groups that are not only “lost” and “unreached,” but as far as we know, also lacking incarnational gospel witness among them.

So some of us from somewhere need to go to these places, these peoples, with a truckload of seed. We need to learn local languages, love the people we find, and seek God for his purposes among them. And many more of us ought to to pray and send and look for other creative ways to see the seed spread where it isn’t.

Is this the only thing God is doing? Certainly not. And the answer to “What’s God’s will for my life?” does not always include the word “unengaged.” But let’s not let this generation pass with any groups without someone showing them what it means to follow Jesus.

What Can We Do?

So what can we do? The Unengaged Unreached Community on Facebook encourages believers to become aware, to pray, and to obey.

Awareness

Prayer

  • Turn your knowledge into prayer here and here.

Obedience

  • Can I encourage you to find representatives of unengaged peoples near you? They may be international students, refugees, or immigrants.
  • Skim this list to spark your imagination.
  • If your desire to “go where the glow is low” begins to look like a career move, please consider linking up with an agency prioritizing the unengaged. Among many great agencies doing that, consider both Frontiers and Pioneers.

Finally, wave the flag for the unengaged. Advocate, inspire, suggest, invite. I suppose engaging all unengaged groups has never been more doable than it is right now as you reach the end of this article. It’s not easy. People will die, dreams will go unrealized, and hard work will yield little results. But it will happen. God promised it to Abraham. Jesus paid for it. And John shares the scary cool glimpse he was given of what it will ultimately look like: an uncountable multitude from among the nations proclaiming that salvation belongs to their God.

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