Breaking the bonds

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Brick-kiln workers in Pakistan are low-paid and many are Christians. If someone falls sick or a family crisis occurs, they have to take a loan from the Muslim kiln owner. Money is then deducted from their wages to pay the interest on the loan, and this can go on for years, even generations. The family remains bonded to their kiln; they cannot leave for another job and have to subsist on the reduced wages.

Barnabas Fund has now come to the rescue of nearly 300 families by
paying off their debts, which were typically from £1000 to £2000. And to help prevent them falling into debt again, Barnabas gives monthly food
parcels to the families so they can cover basic needs and put aside a little money for time of extra need. Simple training in budgeting, saving and managing is given.

The ultimate solution to enable a family to move into a stable economic position is to equip them with skills and education. For Christian brick-kiln families, Barnabas supports 16 schools, 5 literacy classes for adults and children, and a sewing centre.

Barnabas’ local Christian project partners have worked to develop good relationships with the Muslim kiln owners, and have encouraged the freed families to continue brick-making for a while so the owners don’t suddenly lose their experienced workforce – now respected as skilled workers, not despised as bonded labourers.

Inspired by the way they see Christians caring for each other, the Muslim kiln owners are responding with generosity too. One provides free transport for the Christian children to take them to and from the school they now attend each day. Another contacted Barnabas’ local partners to
highlight some Christian families who were in especially great need. “Please pay their debts”, he said. One was so moved by the pitiful state of a Christian widow with 5 young children that when she came with the money from Barnabas to pay her debt, he set her free without taking it.

Local pastors have always come weekly to lead worship and give Christian teaching; now seven owners have each provided a room for their workers to use for church services. The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan visited the Barnabas brick-kiln projects and remarked that they “have not only
restored their dignity but also changed their spiritual life. Sunday services are packed and each week they have two or three prayer meetings.”

Threat and Truth in North Africa

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Since May 2017, the Bible Society in Algeria has been trying, without success, to obtain a licence to import Scripture materials. Today the entire Christian community is under threat.

The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) has issued a statement objecting to the closure, by the authorities, of four of its places of worship. They were told to ‘cease all activity’, and all EPA member churches are worried they’ll be closed too. The EPA is the only recognised Protestant Church and has been officially registered since 1974.

In its statement, the EPA also denounced the intimidation of its members, including recent lawsuits against three Christians wrongfully accused of proselytising, targeted searches of Christians at Algiers airport, and confiscation of Christian books. Other incidents mentioned are the ‘closure of a bookshop in Oran because the owner is a Christian’ and ‘an attempt to close a quail farm, also owned by a Christian.’

In each action the authorities have used a law which governs ‘non-Muslim cults’, and in particular an article which forbids anybody from ‘seeking to shake the faith of a Muslim’. This vague wording means Christians can face accusation no matter what they do. Ali Khidri, General Secretary of the
Bible Society in Algeria, is very concerned about this brutal turn of events. “Please pray for Algerian Christians and for the ministry of the Bible
Society”, he says. “Our freedom of worship is facing a grave threat and there is a clear violation of fundamental freedoms. We need your prayers more than ever.”

Meantime, across the border in Morocco, the Bible Society runs a discipleship course with a difference. Besides the usual sessions, there’s one on ‘telling your (Muslim) family about your (new) faith’, one on how to respond to the police, and tips on memorising Scripture for time in prison.

99% of the 34 million population are Muslim; Christianity is seen as the foreigners’ religion and the Bible distorted and corrupt. Yet the church is growing, as the Bible Society course shows, and is predicted to keep growing “in number, involvement and bravery”. Bible Society’s leader there says, “We live in a society where doctrine is important. The truth of the Bible is a sword in believers’ hands.”

He laughs at a question about long-term plans. “We don’t know what will happen even tomorrow with the police and government”, he says. “But we fix our eyes on God’s promises.”

One small step of faith

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

About 20 years ago a Malaysian Christian leader called Chan Nam Chen visited Borneo where a young pastor invited him to share a short message in a small house-meeting he’d recently started with a group of Sea Gypsies. Until then there had been no Christians among these stateless, seafaring nomads.

The meeting with these new believers took place in a small, stilted hut that hovered over the tides, connected to the shore by a path of planks. There were just ten present, seated on rough wooden flooring under a kerosene lamp. They have their own language but could understand simple Malay as Chan shared his message, encouraging and praying for them; most could not read.

Fast forward to last year when Chan, now head of Asia-CMS, visited the young pastor again. Many of the Sea Gypsies are still stateless, and with tightening border controls and depleting fish in the seas, their traditional way of life is progressively disappearing. However, the involvement of the pastor’s church has grown substantially: it now runs a small school for their children, offering elementary education and teaching skills for alternative livelihoods, and churches in other towns have followed suit.

The original group of believers has grown to over 200, scattered in different sea villages along the coast. Some have migrated to islands hundreds of miles away – Chan met them with great joy. And wondered:

“What if the young pastor had not taken the first step to befriend them? What if he had not shared with them the gospel of Jesus Christ? What if he had not persevered through the years, especially when their numbers were never large and their lives too transient, constantly on the move? But he did.

“The hundreds of individuals in a previously unreached people-group who now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the result of one person, followed by acts of faith and love by many others. They acted on the needs and
opportunities that arose and poured in the required resources step-by-step because they believed that God was in what they were doing.

“As we ponder on how we may contribute to the many aspects of God’s mission around us, there is only so much pondering we can do. At some point, all that pondering and praying will have to translate into acts of faith, love and obedience to God’s voice.”

Source: asiacms.net/stories/mission-starts-with-acts-of-faith

‘They welcomed me’

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Ten years ago a frightened girl sought sanctuary at Cana Girls’ Rescue Home in Kenya after fleeing from her parents. They were planning to make her undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a cultural practice still strong in parts of Kenya even though it’s illegal.

At Cana, Purity, as she is known, was welcomed with open arms and enrolled in school. She was “polite, honest, hard working” and when she reached secondary school she became a strong member of the Christian Union. Now she’s studying at Masai Mara University for a BSc in Education, and in a colourful ceremony on 26 August last year Purity married her fiancé Francis, a schoolteacher.

Purity’s story is one of many which tell of a life transformed through the open arms and loving Christian care of Cana Girls’ Home, which is
supported by Barnabas Fund. Barnabas’ project partner at Cana writes, “We thank Barnabas Fund for laying a strong foundation for Purity which has seen her receive a quality education and dignified marriage. The degree she is about to obtain will not only change her life but that of her family … she is a role model to many Cana girls.”

A total of 54 girls currently stay at the home: 39 are primary school age and live there full time, while 15 are secondary school students who stay at
Cana during school holidays. Barnabas Fund covers most of the home’s costs and the school fees of the girls. The home provides a safe place where the girls can escape family and cultural pressures, largely due to traditional African religions, that can see them forced into child marriage and thus end their chances of an education.

Valary left an abusive father, who was her only parent, and fled 74 miles through the bush to the home to avoid being forced into marriage. “They welcomed me … and now I have a lot of hope in life”, she said.

Thankfully, progress is being made to change cultural expectations in the area, and there has been a recent reduction in FGM and child marriages, which Barnabas Fund’s project partner states is down to a “spirited fight” from churches and former Cana girls, as well as government agencies. But Cana Girls’ Home still has a vital role to play in taking in and nurturing vulnerable Kenyan girls.

Source: Barnabas Fund 

It’s not pronounced ‘Shaun’!

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

A ladder with the bottom rungs missing – have you ever heard that as a description of theological education? In other words, the structures in place don’t help ordinary folk who want to understand the Christian faith better, but who can’t go away to study for lack of educational qualifications, or for practical or financial reasons. They can’t get on any ladder!

SEAN (pronounced Say-Ann, not Shaun!) was devised in South America in the 1970s when Anglican missionaries encountered just those sorts of  people in rural areas of Chile, Paraguay and Argentina: keen, able, intelligent, with potential, but denied the opportunity to study and grow. SEAN’s self-study courses, laboriously but lovingly produced, began to train folk at home, supplemented by regular meetings with a tutor. As a result, church leaders developed and other folk grew into mature Christian disciples.

The foundation course is called ‘Abundant Life’, followed by a longer one about the ‘Life of Christ’. Many other courses are available and what began in such a remote place is now happening in over 100 countries and in 80 languages (including English). It is a thoroughly ‘grass-roots’ ministry adapted to local situations.

One day a drunken wife-beater called Gumercindo wandered into a church service in Chile, and when the pastor invited folk to receive Christ he staggered forward. The pastor suggested he sober up and come back next day. Gumercindo went home, kissed his wife, sobered up and to the pastor’s amazement returned next day saying he’d truly met Jesus. He started studying SEAN courses, and has gone on to plant 5 churches in the region.

From Chile we go to China where the wife of a high-ranking Communist official fell seriously ill. No doctor could help, so someone suggested he contact a Christian church. “I could never do that”, protested the shocked official. “It’s contrary to everything I believe in.” But eventually he did, and the church elders came and prayed for his wife. She was healed.
The husband’s joy meant a tough journey ahead as he gradually came to terms with the power and Lordship of Christ as he studied the faith through the SEAN courses. One day the preacher didn’t turn up at church and the elders asked if anyone had a message for the congregation. The official stood and powerfully proclaimed Christ, to the amazement of all present!

SEAN stands for Study by Extension to All Nations.

Lest We Forget

dvickersby David Vickers

I have accumulated bracelets – not jewellery to adorn myself, but those nylon polymer bands that organisations use to promote their cause. I take them to remind me to pray for those issues and causes. I have been wearing one of these for eight years. Its purple. When I got it in Lebanon, at the beginning of the Syria conflict, it had words on “Save e words have faded away. But the conflict goes on and still leads me to pray daily for a solution that will bring peace.

Next to it, on my right wrist, is a blue one which says, “Rethink Mental Health”. As a retired mental health nurse, I am very aware how mental illness is misunderstood and given less resources than physical illness. I have been involved in developing mental health responses to traumatised refugees in Lebanon. In this country, my daughter has been active in  creating a network of mental health champions in our emergency services (fire, police and ambulance) to support front-line traumatised workers. I pray that we create a culture which cares for mentally ill and helps vulnerable to build up resilience and mental health.

On my left wrist are three bands. A red band has a white star and the word, “Project Cyrus”. This reminds me to pray for North Korea. Old Testament prophets were told by God had a plan to rescue the Israelites exiled in Assyria. In Habbakuk 1:5, God told that prophet that they would be amazed at his plan and wouldn’t believe it if he revealed it to them. His plan unfolded later with the Babylonians conquering Assyria and the Israelites finding favour with King Cyrus which ultimately ended in their return to rebuild Jerusalem. I pray with Project Cyrus that God works out a similarly amazing plan for the people of North Korea.

Then there is a blue band with the words, “Our history”. This came from part of a Lebanese mental health project in which children were encouraged to write their personal histories. It was facilitated by some Swedish teachers who do this sort of work in many conflict areas. The stories were published in a book as the only way in which some of these children could express themselves and learn to process their experiences in a positive way. I pray that this approach is used more widely and these children regain hope for their futures.

I received the final band from ‘Open Doors’ in the post recently. It is black and in the shape of a strand of barbed wire. It has the tag, “Save ME #hope4ME”. It’s a reminder to pray for persecuted Christians around the world. But not just to pray. It’s a link to getting involved with campaigns to raise awareness of what this persecution means to real individuals and communities.

I find these bracelets useful in focusing prayer for issues that God has brought to my heart and mind. When I get overwhelmed with events and issues, I concentrate on these reminders and trust that God has a plan that He is unfolding for each of them.

The Perfect Picture of Hope

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Central African Republic (CAR), in the middle of Africa, is a dangerous place, with civil war since 2012. The capital, Bangui, is controlled by the UN, but beyond this the country is lawless. Violence, looting and kidnappings are widespread, and 90% of people live in extreme poverty. The Foreign Office advises not to travel to CAR at all.

But ten Bible Society staff are working there, “so I was compelled to go and see for myself”, writes Ken Dachi. “At the first site, on the edge of Bangui, eight share three desks in a boiling hot room. We tried to hold a board meeting, but the rain on the tin roof was so loud we couldn’t hear each other, so we waited two hours for the storm to pass. The other two are in a small office with barely any basic tools like computers and printers. Electricity is only available for three hours a day, so generators are heard all over the city. Afterwards I went to the Bible ‘warehouse’ – an old freight container once looted by rebels. I only saw the leftovers.

“The whole set-up was chaotic and ramshackle and you’ve no idea if you’ll even make it to work the next day. When you fear for your life, you don’t tidy your office; there’s no order, records or resources. But mission doesn’t depend on these. God’s work is happening, right now, in this volatile nation. I left the city to meet women involved in Bible-based literacy and trauma healing. They have overcome obstacles to start a group teaching people to read and write using the Bible. They came by bike and on foot to engage with God’s Word. Their energy and passion moved me beyond words. To study the Bible is everything; Scripture is their bedrock. It was the perfect picture of hope.

“On the way back, my colleagues pointed out a small kiosk from which staff sell Bibles. In a country totally broken, people still use their scarce resources to buy Bibles. Tell me if that’s not hope alive.

“In the coming years we plan to train up 20 women as literacy class leaders and trauma healing counselors, to run Bible-based sessions in their communities. We’d also like to provide much better infrastructure and resources for our people whose resilience and hope are both amazing and inspirational. With them we believe the Bible can change lives for good.”

Source: Bible Society

Smash and Squeeze

Bob Luntby Bob Lunt

Over 200 million Christians are persecuted for their faith and Open Doors has published its World Watch List 2018, the record of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian.

Persecution takes many forms, from insults and abuse, to discrimination in the workplace, to outright violence. Open Doors researchers characterise the different types as ‘smash’ and ‘squeeze’. Christians are ‘smashed’ through violence or aggression – rape, kidnap, forced eviction, killing, burning churches. But the majority of persecuted Christians are being ‘squeezed’ to death. They live in societies where law, government, media, even their own families, are against them.

North Korea is number one for the 17th consecutive year, the worst place to be a Christian. But tragically others are catching up, with Afghanistan and Somalia only slightly behind.

Hindu and Buddhist nationalism is sweeping Asia. The rise in Hindu nationalism in India has spilled over into Nepal which has come new into the list at an alarming high of number 25. India itself has moved up and the rise of radical Hindu groups wanting to ‘cleanse’ their country of Christians and Muslims has made it the 11th worst in the world. Buddhist nationalism drives persecution in Sri Lanka (44), Bhutan (33) and Myanmar (24).

Radical Islam is taking root in Africa. Violent jihadists attack Christians in Egypt (17), Kenya (32) and Nigeria (14), and many Muslim-majority countries are legitimising more radical models of Islam; believers in Sudan (4), Somalia (3) and Tunisia (30) have little space to express their faith.

Women are easy targets. Gender-based violence is a weapon of choice among those who persecute Christians. Rape, abduction and forced marriage are frighteningly common in Pakistan (5), Egypt, Nigeria, Central African Republic (35), and even Kenya and India. On average, every month over 100 Christian women are forcibly married to men of other faiths.

Christians are caught in the crossfire where Sunni and Shia Muslims are fighting each other, as in Yemen (9) and Iraq (8).

Good News! In Tanzania, the situation has improved so they are no longer in the top 50. In Syria and Iraq some areas have been recaptured from IS and other militants, meaning Christians can return to their homes. And the persecuted church is not only surviving, it’s active and alive. In these 50 countries – and many more – Christians are daring to demonstrate the life-changing reality of the Kingdom of God.

Light and Life

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Darkness kills. And nights used to be pitch black in Madzangina, a rural village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Women going into labour at night faced a 3-hour journey down a dark road by motorbike to the nearest hospital with electricity. Mortality rates among mothers and babies were frighteningly high. Destin survived two births in these life-threatening conditions. The suffering she and her babies went through was shocking.

Around a quarter of health facilities in the DRC do not have access to electricity. More than one billion people across the world have no light at night. Communities are held back, particularly women who can’t go out safely after dark. No electricity means health clinics can’t store medicines in fridges, children can’t read or do homework in the evenings, expectant mothers and their children are in danger.

Tearfund is taking action with its supporters in a campaign called Renew our World. For Destin and the mothers of Madzangina, this means a health clinic in their community with a solar-powered light. Just one bulb, but one huge step forward.

When Isabelle gave birth the story was very different. Her son was born safely near her home at 4am in the solar-lit clinic. Isabelle knows it would have been very different without medical help. “I would have gone to Nyakundi”, she says, “but it’s hard to get a motorcycle at night for the 3-hour trip.”

The quickest and cheapest way to improve access to energy for people living in poverty is through energy, like solar power which is local, clean and renewable. It brings light to dark places, whilst not damaging God’s creation or contributing to climate change.

The UK Government funds access to energy through the World Bank, but just three per cent of the bank’s energy funding is for local, clean and renewable energy. 97 per cent is spent on polluting fossil fuels such as coal-fired power plants. As a shareholder in the World Bank, the UK Government has a powerful voice in shaping its priorities. Tearfund, celebrating 50 years of ministry this year, is calling on the government to shift the balance to renewable energy. As they say, “We want to see more mums like Destin lifted out of darkness, more women giving birth safely in the light. And whole communities living safer, healthier lives.”

Source: Tearfund For more information go to www.tearfund.org/worldbank

Life after ISIS

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

The ancient town of Nineveh, now encircled by the modern-day city of Mosul in Iraq, has had a chequered history. In the Old Testament, God spared it from destruction, having sent the reluctant prophet Jonah there. But in recent years, it’s been the scene of mass devastation as so-called Islamic State and the Iraqi authorities fought for control of the city. ISIS’ grip on the city ended in August and hundreds of families are returning.

A representative of the Bible Society of Jordan recently travelled there and writes: “The journey was shocking and painful: houses and churches ravaged by fire, looted and in some cases riddled with networks of tunnels. Walking through the abandoned market and seeing the rubble that had once been the homes of Christian families, it was hard not to feel demoralised. But I was also struck by the amazing resilience of the
refugees when I visited Al-Tahera Church, formerly one of the biggest and most beautiful in Iraq, and observed a small congregation praying with their priest amidst the chaos of the ransacked building.

“I met a young Iraqi couple called Ihsan and Lara from nearby Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq. They have two children and Ihsan used to work as a blacksmith until ISIS took over in 2014. They had no choice but to flee their beautiful new home which had taken six years of sweat and sacrifice to build. Then a few days after they fled, Ihsan’s mother died in the church hall which they shared with other refugee Iraqi families. Ihsan is still traumatised by her death.

“I accompanied them to Qaraqosh to inspect their house, which were now a pile of stones. Like many returning Christians, the first thing they did was to remove the letter ‘N’ in Arabic which had been daubed on the door,
meaning ‘Nasrani’ (Christian), to indicate that the inhabitants could be killed. I saw lots of graffiti on the Christian houses. Some said ‘No more church – the Islamic State is remaining and expanding’, but many had been overwritten with statements like ‘Jesus is the light of the world’ and ‘God is love.’

“Ihsan said: ‘We have to return because this is our life and home, our history. We bear witness to Jesus and his resurrection when we live here like our Christian ancestors. There are 2,000 years of history behind us, how can we deny that?’

Source: Bible Society

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