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Girl still missing in Iraq, family prays for safe return

Mission Network News - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

Iraq (ODM) -- Christine is three years old but turned four on Saturday, July 18. Eleven months ago, Christine was snatched from the arms of her mother by militants of Islamic State (IS). After that, the family was deported from their home town of Qaraqosh in Iraq. Over the past year, Open Doors has stayed in touch with the parents through local contacts and recently visited the family again. Ayda, the mother of the family of five children, explained that her eldest son, 24, will be married today (July 15), but added with a broken voice that “my biggest joy would be when my child Christine would be returning to us.” On Aug. 6, 2014, their home town of Qaraqosh was overtaken by militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Khader Abada, the father of the family, is blind, therefore the family stayed in Qaraqosh, even after the takeover. They had no place to escape. So they were hoping for mercy for the blind and disabled from the terrorists. This hope was shortly destroyed. On Aug. 22, the family was taken by IS radicals for, what was said to be, a "medical check-up." More Christians were brought together that day. Most of them had stayed in Qaraqosh for similar reasons as the Abadas: because of handicaps, because of old age, or because of other limitations that kept them from fleeing. The “medical check” proved to be a pretext in order to rob the families and subsequently deport them from Qaraqosh and cleanse the city. Ayda described the situation inside the building as very chaotic and a lot of walking up and down by IS fighters. She noticed that she was pointed at several times while holding her 3-year-old daughter close to her. The Christians had brought valuable belongings, some clothes, and their ID cards. At some point they were said to take out gold and other valuables. The IS fighters took them. In the chaotic situation, however, they did not take Ayda’s valuables. Subsequently, they were ordered to get onto a bus with the windows covered with dirt to block the view outside. Ayda held Christine in her arms, very close to herself. “Then one of the Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] came and inspected the people on the bus. He walked up to us. He took my little girl from my arms and just walked away.” Ayda ran after the man who was called “Fadel,” begging him to return her daughter, but he did not listen. Christine was taken back into the building. Several times Fadel walked in and out. Ayda pleaded and cried for the return of her daughter, but he would not listen. Suddenly an older, heavily-bearded man stepped out of the building, carrying Christine in his arms. He appeared to be the leader of the gang and was called “the prince.” Christine was crying. Ayda was crying too, still begging for her return. “The prince did not say a word, but only looked at me and made a despising gesture with his arms like he was saying get out of my eyes,” recalls Ayda. At gunpoint, Ayda was forced by another IS fighter to get onto the bus again. “From the cruel look in the eyes of the prince, I realized that I had no other option but to go back. And so I did. The man holding Christine then walked away with her. That was the last time I saw her.” The bus drove off. All the time, Ayda kept looking back, desperately hoping to get a glimpse through the muddy windows and see her girl coming back. Every time when the bus would slow down or even stop, her hope increased that Christine would be returned to her any minute. But it did not happen. Although Christine was only three, “she was a good child,” according to Ayda. “She used to hold the hand of her blind dad to guide him in his walk, even though she was a little child.” Now, 11 months later, Christine’s eldest brother is getting married. During the past 11 months, the family and their church have made many attempts to get Christine released, or at least to learn more about her location. However, there is nothing known about her situation, not where she is or if she is even alive. Like other families in a this refugee camp, the family is receiving regular support from Open Doors through the church and local partners in the form of food bags and items for cleaning and hygiene. The one-year anniversary of her kidnapping presents a worldwide opportunity to pray for her return. Ayda concludes: “Please tell everyone to pray for Christine and for us, as we are living in the hope that someday Christine will come back.”  
Categories: Mission Network News

Expanding outreach to Lebanon’s largely unreached Deaf

Mission Network News - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

Lebanon (CAM) -- Deaf children in Middle Eastern cultures tend to be neglected or even abandoned because of their impairment. Like other physically- or mentally-challenged children in the region, they are typically left behind in family life, education, and economic opportunities. Christian ministers in the region say the Islamic worldview leads parents to view such children as bringing shame to the family, and deaf sons and daughters may simply be kept hidden from the public. When a Christian organization based in Lebanon began reaching out to the deaf five years ago, it discovered what amounted to an unreached people group longing for belonging. "We've seen deaf people coming to Christ," the director of the Beirut-based ministry said. "We wanted to start that ministry because deaf people in the Middle East in general, not only in Lebanon, can't be part of the society, as they are really not well regarded by people." Before his ministry began reaching out to the deaf, an association of mission agencies and churches seeking to establish churches among the world's people groups had identified the deaf in Lebanon as an "unreached, unengaged" people group. The association, Finishing The Task (FTT), uses the term "unengaged" for people groups to which no one is even trying to proclaim Christ.

(Photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

FTT estimates there are 21,000 deaf people in Lebanon, but because of the stigma attached to deafness in the country, steep under-reporting is suspected. The actual figure could be in the hundreds of thousands. Introducing sign-language into the ministry's existing outreaches to the primarily-Muslim people in Lebanon has resulted in nearly 90 deaf people putting their faith in Christ, the ministry director said. Two groups of 40-45 people each meet for prayer. "Some of them have the courage to go to church," he said. "Some of them meet in different places because they are from Muslim families." Having seen both the need and the potential harvest, the ministry is planning to extend to deaf children its already highly successful children's outreach. With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, the ministry hopes to serve 200-300 deaf children. Initially, the ministry plans to offer deaf children activities like those of a Vacation Bible School. As they grow in their knowledge of Christ, they would be invited to attend a weekly "Kids' Club" for discipleship. The outreach would also offer two theater performances for the deaf children and their families at a venue the ministry has secured. As the deaf children all come from impoverished families where anxiety, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness are daily companions, the first production emphasizes how evil is the result of sin, not the work of God, who seeks a genuine and healthy relationship with people. The second play raises awareness about hygiene--of critical importance to impoverished children. At the performances, the ministry plans to invite the kids to the club meetings, which would take place twice a week at two or more sites. Consisting of games, Bible lessons, worship songs, and general rowdiness, such gatherings have been so successful among the hearing that some children have a hard time leaving. The Muslim parents report that their children are more loving and respectful, and they say they're glad that their children are learning about God, the director said. About 90% of the children who come to the gatherings for the hearing put their trust in Christ, he said. "Through such clubs for the deaf, we plan to follow up and disciple the children," he said. "They will be able to learn how to develop a relationship with God and grow in their faith." The activities for the deaf do take some tailoring, the director said. "It is different when you work with the deaf because you must work alongside someone who can translate your words into sign language, and the games are a bit different because they rely completely on sight alone," he said. The deaf would also join training sessions the ministry organizes for the hearing, through the use of interpreters, he added. "This has an added benefit of socializing the children with hearing children, and thus breaking down stereotypes and stigma," he said. Last year, the ministry was involved with a child protection program that exposed the need for education to protect children from various forms of abuse. The ministry plans to hold five conferences to educate deaf children, their parents, and schoolteachers about sexual abuse, kidnapping, child protection resources, and children's rights. Besides plans to provide the deaf a gospel film on DVD on the life of Jesus, the ministry also hopes to duplicate for the deaf its highly-successful leadership training conferences. Those who have come to Christ would be trained and equipped to reach deaf young people in Lebanon with the message of Christ's salvation. The ministry, which has 14 staff members and 70 volunteers, would train 80 people at each session to volunteer in the weekly kids' clubs for the deaf. The parents of deaf children who put their faith in Christ would then be trained to lead churches, just as they are in the ministry's program for the hearing. "We've been shocked by the number of people coming to Christ these days," the director said. "We've been seeing miracles happening these days among the Muslim people. So many are turning to Christ." Click here to help believers continue this ministry.
Categories: Mission Network News

Container to bless school in Uganda

Mission Network News - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 5:00am
Uganda (MNN) -- AFAYO means "He loves" in the language of Lusoga. In Uganda, Christ's love is needed. Every Child Ministries understands this and started the AFAYO Project to bless a school in Uganda, and ultimately the community. The work of Every Child Ministries is compelled by helping the poorest of the poor, the neediest of the needy. AFAYO uses village schools as an avenue for reaching out to communities with the love of Jesus. Through the school, ECM can reach out not only to the teachers and students, but also to the church, the parents, the orphans, village leadership, and ultimately, the entire community. ECM just sent a container full of supplies to Uganda. ECM's Bruce Coker says, "They received tables, desks, books, charts used in the classroom, and some medical supplies. There's clothing in the container, backpacks, pencils, crayons, and paper."

Bruce and Janine Coker.

Coker tells us, "It’s working through the schools and the church in a community, which is Naigobya. We’re trying to spread the love of Christ and to help them to understand how they can have a relationship with Christ. But it’s working through the schools, so we’re also trying to implement Christ into the classroom." While the supplies are important, it's interacting with teachers that's most important. Coker says, "What we're doing is teaching the Bible studies to the teachers and helping them understand their role as a teacher in a Christian school. [It's important to] communicate that to various ages, which is much easier for them to do on a daily basis." The goal is to meet physical and spiritual needs, but ECM is also working to teach self-sustainability. "We’re trying to teach them to become independent. Right now and in the beginning, they were very dependent on AFAYO. Well, now we’re helping them understand that by earning money and earning and making things, you’re able to rely on yourself." Coker says many people have come to Christ because of not only the physical help, but the Bible studies, discipleship, mentorship, and other activities. "The community has seen all the change that's happening in Naigobya, so we're being asked to step out and deeper into different villages. Our first job is to reach this community strongly before we start stepping out and extending ourselves." You can support ECM's work in Naigobya through prayer, as well as financially. "We help support the teachers' salary, pay for food, and the [tuition] fees for orphans and other needy children." If you'd like to help, click here.
Categories: Mission Network News

Persecution in Pakistan rises, FMI withstands

Mission Network News - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy Forgotten Missionaries International)

Pakistan (MNN) -- Things are heating up in Pakistan, and we're not talking about the weather. "Christians are experiencing much more persecution in Pakistan," says Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI). "There's a legitimate fear that the government's not going to look after these Christians, but actually accelerate persecution." Worsening persecution is reportedly causing religious minorities to flee by the thousands. But, they're going from the frying pan into the fire. "They're going to other countries in Asia…and yet, they're finding life is very difficult once they arrive in those countries," Allen says. Why are Christians leaving? According to a recent report, religious minorities are enduring more persecution in Pakistan, with less help.

"Fodor" suffered burns on 55% of his body.
(Photo courtesy of Forgotten Missionaries International)

The schools, homes, and churches of believers, as well as other religious minorities, are routinely attacked. Christians are harassed and discriminated against; blasphemy accusations often trigger mob violence. Moreover, "In recent months, Pakistan has [re-enacted] the death penalty. They had a moratorium on that for a number of years, but now under the guise of 'we want to seek the death penalty for terrorists,' [they've re-enacted it]," Allen explains. "There are Christians in prison--falsely charged under this blasphemy law, and they're concerned that they could be put to death." To escape persecution in Pakistan, and possible death, believers are fleeing to what they think will be a "safe haven." Over 100,000 Pakistani Christians have fled to refugee camps in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines in the past several years, International Christian Concern reports. There are more than 1,400 Pakistani asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka, according to UNHCR figures; that's a major spike from 102 asylum-seekers in 2012.

(Photo courtesy of Forgotten Missionaries International)

In March, Thai police arrested hundreds of Christians who had fled persecution in Pakistan. Government leaders then pushed for their deportation. Allen says it's challenging for asylum-seekers to reside in places like Thailand or Malaysia because these countries have never signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which protects refugees' basic human rights. "While it might be easy to get into Thailand as a refugee, once you're there, you might find that life gets very, very difficult." Why does it matter? Pakistan is consistently "in the news" for religious persecution. On multiple occasions, including last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called upon the U.S. government to make Pakistan a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC).

(Photo courtesy ChristiansinPakistan.com)

This "is the single most powerful message the United States can send to a country which consistently fails to protect religious minorities," the Foreign Policy Group reports. And yet, the EU commended Pakistan's government yesterday for "[taking] effective steps against religious persecution" and said the country has a "significant role to play" in the wider region. Reports like this one, which highlight the reality of persecution in Pakistan, are barely a blip on the global radar. "The Pakistani government does not want this to get traction in the media," Allen explains. "It's only as stories about these persecuted believers are trickling out, through agencies like Forgotten Missionaries International, that we're really understanding what the plight is." Find more FMI stories here. How YOU can help Using a network of safe houses, FMI is helping believers "stay put," instead of fleeing persecution in Pakistan. These Christ-followers want to advance the movement God has started. "There is no geo-political boundary or force that operates against the work of the Holy Spirit; God is drawing people to Himself," Allen shares.

(Photo courtesy FMI)

"What we try to do is provide a good environment for this new believer to be nurtured and discipled." Partner with FMI here to help protect Christians from persecution in Pakistan. "As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we can help persecuted believers in a place like Pakistan by providing a safe refuge," says Allen. And by protecting believers, you're helping God's Kingdom continue to grow in Pakistan. "Just because a government or society is closed to the Gospel, we should never believe the people are closed. The Gospel does change lives; I know many Muslims who are coming to Christ in Pakistan."
Categories: Mission Network News

Helping graduated orphans transition into ‘real life’

Mission Network News - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy SOAR International via Facebook)

Russia (MNN) -- Russian orphans "graduate" out of the system between the ages of 15-18 years old. But how do they adapt to life when it’s so abruptly forced on them? “They go to school, but they don’t always have the life skills necessary to succeed after they leave the orphanage,”says  Greg Mangione of SOAR International. The Russian government gives children small stipends, but no one checks up on them to see how they’re doing or if they’ve found a job or a place to live. Instead, they’re left on their own. Big Family Ministries reports most graduated orphans turn to drugs and alcohol, and 9 out of 10 end up in crime, prison, or prostitution. Fortunately, in some cities like Ryazan, local churches have started up transition homes, which are exactly as they sound: they help graduated orphans transition into "real life" by giving a diverse array of classes. “One of our main goals here at SOAR is to come alongside the local church and help assist and enable them in the ministries they have or would like to do in their communities.” Most of the time, churches just need more manpower, some training, or tools; but sometimes they need fluent English speakers. For the last two summers, SOAR has partnered with some local churches in Ryazan to help mentor kids both spiritually and in practical life skills. “The youths that are living at the transition home right now have just really taken to the program; [they] enjoy the classes that they’re doing and the fellowship they have.” Some of the classes offered include cooking, sewing, agriculture, Bible, and English. SOAR staff member Joanna Mangione and SOAR intern, Benjamin Roney, are helping to teach several of these classes. Near the end of Jul, 4 more SOAR staff members will be joining them. “They use the English program as a way to minister to the community at large. They might use the Bible or verses as part of the curriculum that they would be using in teaching English,” Mangione explains. “As they get to know people, of course you just use the personal relationships as an opportunity to share...with Christ with people that do not yet know Him.” Mangione says since Roney is closer in age to graduated orphans, he’s able to connect better. “You also have the interest of somebody from another culture, and there’s just a natural interest they have in Ben.” Roney has been working with students in their agricultural classes. Because he grew up on a family farm in Indiana, he was able to give advice and help build a garden with different produce. But, he’s specifically been working on Bible lessons, asking kids what they’re curious about and helping them understand the meaning of baptism and salvation. Mangione says he’s had a great response. As SOAR helps students build relationships and life skills, they ask for your prayer that workers will effectively share the Gospel and inspire others with their testimonies. Pray also for students to soak up the knowledge they’ve been given and to be better prepared for the future ahead of them.
Categories: Mission Network News