By Shane Bennett
How is Christmas unfolding for you? You doing okay? I pray you’re filled with hope, peace, joy, and love in the lead-up to celebrating the birth of Jesus. I’m looking at deadlines and dropped balls myself, but also reeling in the wonder of new life and possibilities, including the birth of my first-ever grandchild!
Whether or not the whole Christmas spirit thing is totally happening for you, here’s a chance to take a quick break, smile for a minute, and maybe snag an idea or two you can use.
After a multi-year hiatus, the December edition of Practical Mobilization is once again devoted to a pair of Christmas lists. One consists of gifts you might give to juice a friend or family member’s vision for the nations. The other features gifts that gonzo mobilizers like us might particularly enjoy. (The second is not my personal Christmas gift list, but the overlap is striking!)Christmas Gifts to Boost Vision
If you’re like me, it’s hard to turn off the mobilizer switch. It kind of runs on automatic. So, when it comes to gift giving, maybe you think, “Two birds, one stone. My friend gets something they like, and they also get a little nudge toward the nations.” Some of these are subtle and sneaky, and some dreadfully overt. You choose.1. A Timely Gift
2020 YWAM Personal Prayer Diary and Daily Planner: A lot of the cool kids are going back to paper and this planner has solid chops. It also has a decades long track record of facilitating prayer for the nations.2. Food Gifts
- Ethnic Dinner Gift Certificate: If there’s an easier, tastier way to seduce someone into God’s global purposes than food, I don’t know it. Maybe you’ve got the skills to make an amazing meal for your friend. Do it. If not, find an Indian buffet or a Middle Eastern diner. When you’ve got my stomach, you’ve got me.
- International Snack Box: Go to Cost Plus World Market and compile your own. Or save the gas and send one like this Ultimate Assortment of Turkish Treats.
How about giving a goat in your friend’s name? Sometimes this is a good way to honor the love you feel for them, along with the reality that they don’t need any more stuff!
Quite a few organizations can help you out here. World Concern offers a way to gift a year of school, chickens or a church. Food for the Hungry gives you a chance to buy a bee hive or the whole manger!4. Mappy Gifts
- World Map Shower Curtain: Contemplate the planet every time you…whatever.
- Scrunch Map: A map of the world that wads up and fits in a small pouch! Won’t get you as many “Best Uncle Points” as something chocolate, but it just might score.
- World Map Pillow: Global vision via osmosis every night!
- World Map Puzzle: For bonus points, put this puzzle together with some munchkin relatives.
- Across the Street and Around the World. You may want a case of these. They’re that good.
- How to Bless a Missionary: Practical Ideas for Your Church and Family. 100 great ideas.
- Something Needs to Change. Classic David Platt. Easy to read. Hard to dismiss.
Are you going somewhere cool in 2020? Of course, you are, you crazy mobilizer! What if your gift to a close friend was a genuine invitation to accompany you? Maybe you can’t afford to cover her cost. What about just part? “You get the ticket, I’ve got the rest?” Or, “I’ll pay for your passport, if you’ll just send in the paper work.”
Few things wield more power than personal invitation.Bonus Item
Here’s a Pray for Syria coffee mug. Can we all buy this and do it?Gifts for Mobilizers
Got a mobilizer you love? Someone who’s laying it all on the line to share God’s passion for the planet with others? Reach out and kiss them with a gift this Christmas.1. Go Blue
For starters, you can’t go wrong with anything in Pantone’s color of the year, Classic Blue. They say it instills, “calm, confidence, and connection.” Which pretty much describes mobilizers. The Cut calls it, “anti-anxiety” blue, which also might be needed!2. Think Video
A drone! Again, not because it’s fun, but in the interest of helping mobilizers generate great video to help others fall in love with their favorite people group. Of course, to be honest, capturing drone footage in some cool places might land you in jail! (But that might in turn land you a book deal…)3. Help with Finances
Consider the gift of an hour with a finance coach. For $45 my personal finance coach will spend an hour on the phone helping your mobilizer friend see where they stand financially. And he’ll give them three solid action steps to move forward. In case you’re worried, this guy will not try to up-sell your friend. He honestly just wants to help people. If you’ve got the courage and sensitivity to give this gift, let me know and I’ll make the connection. (I won’t tell if you want to give it to yourself!)4. A Photo Shoot
Mobilizing isn’t mainly about looking good. But it doesn’t hurt to look like you tried a little! And many in mobilization ministry can use a head shot or family photos. Maybe you’ve got the chops and the chutzpah to gift your own services for this or maybe you hire someone else. Either way, many mobilizers would benefit from an hour of someone’s time whose photo skills surpass that of their iPhone.5. Hotel Points
Riding the Perspectives speaking circuit, I’ve stayed in a lot of people’s homes. Many have been small outposts of Heaven and the owners’ exercise of hospitality blessed me deeply. All the same, sometimes you can’t beat a hotel. Telling your mobilizer bud you’ve got their bed and tiny shampoo bottles covered for a night or two on an upcoming trip can be a huge blessing.6. A Boost of Power
If you know what sort of phone they use, hook them up with house and car chargers and an emergency power brick. I love this one, but cheaper versions are also available. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use extra charging equipment.
And more Holy Spirit. Now we’re talking real power! What if your gift were to seriously ask your mobilizer friend what they’re dreaming, scheming, and planning for in 2020? When you’ve thoroughly heard them out, commit to weekly prayer for them and occasional check-ups on progress. We might hit the end of next year having seen goals reached and people released into the kingdom like never before!
Happy Christmas to you, my friends. I appreciate you reading Missions Catalyst and am grateful for every ounce of effort you put into the completion of the Great Commission. May God bless you beyond your imagination in 2020.
Once a year, I take a second to ask you to thank Marti Wade, the kind, gritty, wise, long-suffering, and gracious publisher of Missions Catalyst. She’s better than I deserve, better than we deserve.
If you’ve appreciated the News Briefs, Resource Reviews, calendar info and Practical Mobilization articles, please take a moment to reply to this email with a quick “Thank you and God bless you, Marti.” I’d appreciate that. We want her hand on this particular plow for a long, long time.
Source: Catalyst Services, November 2019
While a number of churches are intentionally reaching out to Muslim immigrants, many have failed to recognize another huge, unreached people bloc with whom their congregation may have much greater daily contact. Who are these people hidden among us? Hindus. The US alone is home to 2.6 million Hindus, the vast majority of whom come from Indian people groups largely unpenetrated by the gospel.
The number of South Asian immigrants, most of them Hindu, has grown steadily since the 1960s. As a group, these newcomers are the wealthiest and best educated of foreign-born Americans. Ninety percent represent socially advantaged groups, the traditional upper castes that are some of India’s least-reached people groups. A similar story prevails in Canada, and other Western countries also have large Hindu immigrant populations.
When the map above surfaced recently on the internet, many Christians were shocked. Excluding Mexicans, who make up by far the largest percentage of US immigrants, the swath of bright blue on this map reveals that Indians are the second largest foreign-born group in many states, especially in the East and Midwest. In the years from 1995-2017, an average of 65,000 Indians immigrated to the US each year.
Despite these statistics, few evangelical churches have seriously considered how to reach this major people-group bloc whom God has been integrating into their neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools.
Why aren’t we reaching them?
Source: Morning Star News, November 29, 2019
After spending 11 years behind bars for a murder they did not commit, five Christians in eastern India were finally ordered to be freed on Tuesday (Nov. 26), sources said.
The Supreme Court of India issued a decision granting bail to the five Christians from Odisha (formerly Orissa) state falsely accused of killing Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, whose death on Aug. 23, 2008 in Kandhamal District touched off anti-Christian attacks that killed 120 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 homes and displaced 55,000 Christians.
The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), said the legal fight does not end with the granting of bail to the seven accused Christians.
“This is just the first step,” Lal told Morning Star News. “The case still has to be fought at the High Court in Odisha.”
At the same time, Lal said he was glad that the Christians will be able to celebrate Christmas with their families.
» Full story points out that India has steadily risen on the Open Doors list of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, currently ranked number 10.
Source: World Evangelical Alliance, November 5, 2019
Just days ago, Christians joined in a public protest against the Algerian government for shutting down churches. This is unusual. [Christians in Algeria] usually they work out these matters behind closed doors. But this time it was different. Christians (specifically Protestants/Evangelicals), sufficiently frustrated by the harassment of their government, took to the streets in protest.
Take a moment to watch these bold Christians in their public protest. Then pray. Secondly, help them in their drive to afford the lawful gathering in worship. As you do, you will hear them in Arabic sing this worship song: “How beautiful you are, you are the Holy one, the only one deserving all dignity and authority.”
Their singing was done while standing in front of a government office, in a country where as a minority, they face the power and wrath of a Muslim-majority government.
» Also read Algeria: Crackdown on Protestant Faith-Churches Sealed; Worshipers Beaten (Human Rights Watch) and, from Ethiopia, a story about an evangelical church shut down and its members arrested in a religiously contested area (World Watch Monitor). In this case, the conflict seems to be between Protestants and Orthodox.
Source: Barnabas Fund, October 29, 2019
Church registrations are increasing in Uzbekistan with three churches validated in September, and up to five more registrations expected to be finalized in October. The first church registration in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, where penalties for Christian worship were previously harsher than in the rest of Uzbekistan, is expected within weeks.
The rise in registrations could signal greater religious freedoms for Christians under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was elected into office in the Muslim-majority country in December 2016.
President Mirziyoyev is expected to introduce a new religious law soon, under which the membership requirement for church registration will be lowered from 100 members to 50.
A Barnabas contact said the long-hoped-for registration increase was “hard to believe.” He added that, in some cities, the authorities had even approached pastors to offer to help them navigate the process of proving church buildings meet strict registration requirements. The church registrations were even broadcast on national television in a report featuring an interview with a pastor and footage of a church service.
Before Mirziyoyev’s election, Uzbekistan was known for its harsh treatment of Christians. But within the first year of his leadership, the first 3,000 Uzbek Bibles, partly funded by Barnabas, were sold legally in the country and official celebrations were held to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Fines imposed on Christians by the courts were also lower.
» Read full story as well as Christian Wins Landmark Case in Russia Over Right to Worship in Private Homes, also from Barnabas.
» Several of our regular sources published reports about a South Korean pastor killed in Turkey in what may have been a targeted assassination (Mission Network News). See an interesting editorial piece on Recognizing the Phenomenon of Persecution of Christians Globally (Forbes).
Source: Mission Network News, October 17, 2019
A village in Liberia with a gruesome history now has new purpose. Over a century ago, villagers buried six girls alive as a sacrifice for power. They then erected six stones on the sacrificial grounds and worshiped these stones as a symbol of power bought with blood.
”As [a group of evangelists] came along the trail, there was a snake that had been planted on it. It was a big deadly snake. They say if it bites you, you will not live. So, in other words, they had kind of mined the road to get in. It was planted there so that this man wouldn’t be able to bring the gospel into this area.”
A few of the team members accidentally stepped over the snake, thinking it was just another tree root. Miraculously, the snake did not strike.
“When he got to the village, everybody was stunned that he was still alive!…Three days later, the town chief and the villagers accepted Christ and removed all six of the stones that were a memorial for the six girls who had been sacrificed.
“Now the snake is dead, victory was won over Satan, and God’s light will run where the darkness was.”
» From the other side of Africa (specifically Kenya), read Thirty-Blanket Bride, about a Westerner discovering her faulty perceptions (Thrive).
Source: New Eyes Productions
Peacemakers: Crossing the Divide is a 60-minute documentary film with a message of hope in the midst of the seemingly intractable conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. It features the personal stories of Jewish and Arab followers of Jesus who are pursuing peace and unity.
The film and an in-depth study guide speak to issues of deep division in the church worldwide. To get a taste, meet and hear from some of the peacemakers (click on their photos). Quite moving.
Several other sources I follow have new films:
- Free Burma Rangers is a feature-length documentary from Deidox about an American missionary family offering help and hope to internally displaced people. It will be in theaters in February.
- The Traveler is not a documentary, but an hour-long drama from Gemstone Media about a Central Asian family. It’s filmed in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. Watch the trailer.
- Moving Works is producing six gospel-centered short stories about the Czech Republic. The did a similar project about Japan and are work on some videos about Germany.
God’s Heart for the Nations, by Jeff Lewis, takes you from Genesis to Revelation exploring the connection between two critically important themes woven together throughout Scripture—God’s blessing and God’s global purpose.
This eight-week, 73-page study will take you and your team or small group to more than 100 Bible passages and also includes memory verses, mission quotes, ways to pray for the nations, suggestions for reflection, and resources for further study.
This isn’t a new resource, but it has new graphics, new prayer highlights, and a new price: free. Download it as a PDF in exchange for your email address. Since it’s more of a study guide than a book to read, you’ll probably need to print it out to put it to its best use.
» Download God’s Heart for the Nations. You can also still get paper copies of the 2015 edition from Pioneers if you prefer.
» Looking for ways to help oral learners discover these themes and more? Check out God’s Mission in the World, designed to help you facilitate a three-day training event (Ephesiology).
Source: Peregrini Press
Always Love: The Timeless Story of God’s Heart for the World & What It Means for You, by Sara Lubbers. Peregrini Press, 2019. 329 pages.
This creative retelling of scripture in the form of stories is designed to help readers connect more deeply with the God of the Bible, and find their place in his ongoing story. Each short chapter includes scripture references.
It’s sort of a Bible story book for teens and adults, but one not limited to the narrative portions of scripture. That requires some imaginative dialogue and interpretive leaps, but I found the result pretty solid.
This is not a missions book, but an account of the story of salvation. And it might make a good Christmas gift for like-minded friends or supporters or serve as a resource for your family.
» Learn more or purchase the book from Amazon for US$9.99 (Kindle) or US$16.99 (paperback).
» Every book of the Bible has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God’s character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan, says pastor Garrett Kell. How would you sum those up? See Every Book of the Bible in One Word (The Gospel Coalition).
So, you are going on a short-term missions trip and you’re beginning to ask the question, “Should I work at learning the language before I go?
It is a question everyone seems to ask for which there is but one answer…
YES! Yes, you should!
Will you be proficient enough to have meaningful conversations? Probably not. Will you be fluent enough to share the gospel? Not yet. Will anyone, anywhere mistake you for a native speaker? Never!
But… Will your efforts teach you humility? Yes. Will your efforts honor your host culture? Absolutely. Will your efforts help you avoid embarrassing mishaps? They sure might. Will your efforts demonstrate the love of Christ? Yes they will.
* * *
The missionary anthropologist Charles H. Kraft was [once] asked, “How much time should one who goes to serve as a two month short-term missionary spend in language learning?”
Kraft responded: “Two months.”
The questioner continued, “What about one who stays six months?”
“Then spend six months in language learning.”
“And if he stays two years?”
“There is nothing he could do that would communicate more effectively than spending those two years in language learning.” Kraft continued, “Indeed, if we do no more than engage in the process of language learning we will have communicated more of the essentials of the gospel than if we devote ourselves to any other task I can think of.”
» See also Word Climber, a great new tool for capturing and learning new words, and especially helpful for those learning languages for which other language learning tools are scarce or non-existent.
Source: Missions Catalyst Events Calendar
December 1-6, Debriefing Retreat (Union Mills, NC, USA). Provided regularly by the Center for Intercultural Training.
December 3-5, Finishing the Task Conference (Lake Forest, CA, USA). An annual event.
December 5, Holy Spirit Power (online). “Nugget” training from Beyond exploring the importance of praying strategic, God-sized prayers.
December 10-11, Support Raising Bootcamp (Jacksonville, FL, USA). Provided in various locations on a regular basis by Support Raising Solutions.
December 12, Designing Mission Opportunities for Every Life Stage (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.
December 27-31, Chinese Christian Mission Convention (Baltimore, MD, USA).
December 28-31, Chicago Chinese Christian Conference (Chicago, IL, USA).
» Complete calendar includes events for the first half of 2020; I’m still working on it. Suggestions and submissions welcome.
Recent military action in northern Syria has brought more devastation and displacement. Watch a new video crying out to God for Syria (Prayercast).
Northern Syria is now divided into five zones with leaders are at odds with one another (Al-Monitor) and the region faces a critical water shortage (Syria Direct). Recent violence is taking quite an emotional toll on Christians (Open Doors).
Of course, this has been going on for some time. The Syrian Network for Human Rights recently reported that more than 14,000 people died under torture at the hands of the Syrian regime from 2011 to 2019, while the families of another 130,000 still detained wonder if their loved ones are still alive (The National).
That’s a lot to take in. And against that backdrop, we read this. World Vision asked Syrian refugee children in Lebanon what they are thankful for.
Source: Forum 18, November 14, 2019
Three Protestant pastors given long jail terms in absentia for leading New Life Pentecostal Church in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital Almaty lost their appeal at Almaty City Court on November 1. The three have said they will appeal to Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court in the capital Nur-Sultan.
The pastors were variously accused of founding the Church in 1991 with “criminal intent,” and “by means of the technology of psychological and psychotherapeutic influence with the aim of causing psychological harm to the health and stealing others’ property by means of deception and abuse of trust… with the use of information technologies and methods of turning the victims into a state of changed consciousness (trance).”
The case against the three pastors is “complete drivel,” Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Humants and the Rule of Law commented. “I have read the verdict. It is nonsense.”
The three convicted pastors now live in the United States. Pastor Zaikin told Forum 18 “we still want to return to Kazakhstan.”
Pastor Kryukov says attendance at New Life Church’s various services on an average Sunday in Almaty is currently about 850.
» Full story includes pictures and much more detail.
» Pray for this region with a new Central Asia video from Prayercast.
Source: OMF International, November 2019
In 2017 I had the pleasure of spending three months in a Southeast Asian country as part of OMF’s Serve Asia program.
In all honesty, at times the needs seemed overwhelming due to cultural differences, the lack of healthcare, or limited resources and the lack of facilities which I had become used to. However, it challenged me to depend wholly on God and to ask him first. I also had to “think outside the box” and look at what was available and what would work best locally.
An example was using a combination of crates and bricks to raise the height of a bench to help a man with cerebral palsy do his work. He loves his role of sawing and sanding wooden board for artwork!
The lack of language also made things more complicated although I managed a few language lessons and grasped a few basic phrases which always caused my new friends to smile (and sometimes laugh).
I was also able to spend time helping at a local Christian home school. This allowed me to use my occupational therapy skills in sharing resources and advice for teachers and assistants working with children with additional learning needs.
Admittedly, I had only envisaged this as a short-term trip. However, the experience has opened my eyes to the opportunities for the gospel in this country and God has started a work in my heart as to the real possibility of longer-term mission. I was surprised by what God could do through me.
» Other stories about using your talents in missions: Read how a man who worked in marketing saw his skills repurposed for ministry (Beyond) and how runners are needed in Susan (Mission Network News), plus follow the journey of a Malaysian Chinese girl pursuing God’s call while honoring her elderly parents (OM).
Source: God Reports, October 16, 2019
Peter and Tammy Russell work with Wild Hope International in Tanzania after spending years working with Kenya’s Maasai. Recently, they had a five-day getaway on the pristine beaches of Zanzibar. Peter had looked forward to the time to “relax, read a good book, enjoy some good food, swim, and exercise.”
“As we flew in over the Indian Ocean, the aquamarine and coral blue of the waters surrounding the emerald archipelago formed a picture so breathtaking that I felt my soul start to rejuvenate,” he recounted.
[But] that night Peter had a disturbing dream. “I saw Maasai going to perform a sacrifice filled with occult meaning. When I woke up, I shared the dream with Tammy, we prayed together, and the heaviness lifted somewhat. But later in the day it came back, and I had a stirring in my heart to have church on the beach.”
When Sunday arrived, Peter and Tammy took a walk on the beach.
When a young Maasai man greeted them, Peter answered him in Maasai. The young man was shocked to hear his language coming from a tourist.
“I have a message on my heart to give to you Maasai here. Can you gather your friends together?” Peter asked.
» See full story with pictures.
Source: Barnabas Fund, October 22, 2019
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Indonesian Muslim political party and world’s largest moderate Muslim movement, has made a significant break with Islamic conservatism in an unprecedented decision to abolish the legal category of “infidel” (kafir) for non-Muslims.
The groundbreaking move, apparently aimed at sweeping away Islamic doctrines often used by extremists to justify terrorism, was first announced at the NU national conference in West Java earlier in 2019.
Around 20,000 Muslim scholars gathered to create and endorse a new Islamic legal framework (fiqh). The new rulings include a raft of changes embracing the modern definition of nation state, instead of a caliphate, and recognizing all as “fellow citizens,” irrespective of their religion or ethnicity, with equal rights and obligation to obey modern national laws.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and the NU claims to have more than 90 million members. Its revisions of Islamic doctrine and legal rulings are expected to reverberate throughout the Muslim world.
» The NU also eased a ban on non-Muslim greetings, that is, greetings associated with the other religions of Indonesia (The Jakarta Post).
In this issue:
You’ve heard the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” In other words, if you’re going to get smarter, get around people who are smarter than you. Of course, for some of us, pretty much anyone will suffice!
Similarly, I’ve been sensing lately a need to be around people who have more vision than me. Surely, I’m not the only one whose vision for the nations is prone to flag from time to time. Am I?
Last night I was on the phone with a ministry partner who shared about a trip to North Africa. It had profoundly changed him, he said: “What I saw convinced me a whole Muslim people group, not just ones and twos, could be won to Christ.” That was straight dopamine for me. After a few minutes buddy-breathing on his vision, I hung up the phone happy!
I’m wondering how to get around big-vision people more consistently. As mission mobilizers, we’re often scattered about and maybe even prone to isolation. Without regular reinforcement, given the blows our faith will doubtless take, we may falter or plateau.
So how can I—I mean we—get in proximity to people of great vision? Here are some ideas. But I’m hoping you have some that are even better. Let me know!1. Go to mission conferences.
We list many of these on the Missions Catalyst events calendar and will soon be adding a host of 2020 events.
- Upside: You can hang out and ask great people great questions while they eat breakfast.
- Downside: Pretty pricey.
I guess you could call, too, but that just scares me! Ask them how you can pray for them. Ask them to tell you about their vision or tell you about something they’ve found encouraging lately.3. Crash a Perspectives class.
Offer to host the instructor or drive them to the airport.4. Read visionary books.
Start with the Bible. Read fiction and non-fiction as well as magazines and blogs. Missions Catalyst Resource Reviews can give you some leads. Reading James Bryan Smith’s The Magnificent Story recently did wonders for my vision. It increased my hope and desire for God’s kingdom.5. Borrow vision from related disciplines.
Get coffee with local pastors who are killing it. Take entrepreneurs and successful farmers to lunch.What do you do when your vision dips low? Let us know.
Here in the US, our most American holiday is right around the corner. Thanksgiving presents a chance not only to re-calibrate our own gratitude meter, but also reach out to people we’ve considered connecting with but haven’t been able to trip the trigger.
Thanksgiving is innocuous, non-partisan, and safe. Even the most mild-mannered can break the social ice with, “What are we thankful for?” The more intrepid can follow up, “Who are we thankful to?” It’s a ready-made opportunity to get more comfortable talking about God. And should a sermon threaten to break out, there’s football, board games, and more pie.
If this idea is intriguing but intimidating, check out my super-short Five-Step Plan for a Killer International Thanksgiving Dinner. This will get you going in the right direction. Fill in the details by ransacking this beautiful and ridiculously helpful site with ideas for cross-cultural hospitality, The Serviette. These guys give the body of Christ a wonderful gift. Enjoy it.