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In India, religious freedom in tatters

Mission Network News - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy World Watch Monitor/Anto Akkara)

India (MNN) -- The 300th day of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration did not pass unnoticed. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says thousands gathered in Delhi for a protest. "It was a march that included Christians, Muslims, Hindus, opposition party members who were part of the previous government there. But the march really was to draw attention to the fact that 'it's been 300 days, and look at the religiously motivated attacks!'" World Watch Monitor noted that the record of attacks, written on protest banners, show that there was more than one attack every two days on a religious minority group since Modi came to power. Nettleton confirms, "They talk about something like 600 religiously-motivated attacks--most of those against Muslims, but more than 150 of them against Christians." Yet, most of the world never heard about a protest involving thousands of people in Delhi. Here's what's at stake: religious freedoms are falling away while radical Hinduism is on the rise. It's the casual reference to India's future that raises alarm bells from inside the highest levels of government. "There are government officials in Modi's administration who have even referred to India as 'Hindustan:' the land of the Hindus, [meaning] this should be Hindu-land, 100% Hindu people," explains Nettleton. Given that scenario, he echoes the concern shared by one of the officials that spoke at the march. "[He] said, 'This is what's happened in 300 days. Imagine what will happen in five years or ten years or longer, if all of this has just taken 300 days?'"

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

VOM reports spies in churches who monitor Christian activity, and a number of states use anti-conversion laws to inhibit their work. In states where the BJP rules, there are incidents on a near daily basis, where churches and believers' homes are destroyed, pastors and church members are beaten and sometimes killed. Nettleton says it appears Hindu extremists are acting with impunity. "This government is not going to hold them accountable. They're not going to charge them, put them in jail for long periods of time. The Christians know 'We're targets now. The government is not going to protect us like we've counted on in the past.'" Plus, Nettleton adds, "The atmosphere has changed for Christians (and for Muslims, as well), [conveying that] 'you're not welcome here. This is not your place. You're not really Indian. You're part of a foreign religion. You're not really part of us.'" According to VOM, there are countless cases where Hindu attackers are deliberately left unpunished and Christian victims face accusations and trials. The anti-conversion laws are specifically misused against Christians.

(Photo credit VOM USA via Facebook)

What it means is Christians find it difficult in some states to share their faith, to distribute Christian materials, or to conduct social work. These kinds of things are usually not prohibited by law, but since Christians can be accused of "hurting religious feelings" or "disturbing peace and order," discretion and caution have to be incorporated. After hearing what church partners had to say about this, Nettleton realizes they are undaunted. "Their response is: 'We can't control the government. We can't control what they do. We can only control what we do, and we're going to continue to serve the Lord. We're going to continue to reach out to our neighbors and our friends and the people of our cities and share the Truth, share the Gospel message.'" VOM comes alongside the persecuted Church in India, providing support and encouragement to the Gospel workers.   Prayer goes a long way toward the latter, especially when church leaders are saying, "'We're going to do what God has called us to do.' So, their response has been one of not being intimidated and not being discouraged, even though they know they could be coming into a season of suffering." Nettleton also urges prayer for protection and wisdom. "We want to pray for that sense of 'we're going to follow Christ, no matter what,' that they will have that encouragement and that spirit of boldness."
Categories: Mission Network News

Eurasia economic woes continue

Mission Network News - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 5:00am

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan), Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus), Vladimir Putin (Russia).
(Latin American Herald Tribune photo)

Russia (MNN) -- The economic crisis in Russia and former Soviet bloc nations is growing. It's getting serious enough that the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia met together to map out a strategy for addressing their currency devaluation, the lower cost for energy, and run-away inflation. Eurasia economic woes continue to have wide-reaching impact. According Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev following their Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) meeting, "Our economy in 2015 requires a detailed discussion of our cooperation." He says, "It will be a year of great challenges and risks" for the EEU. The currency crisis hit a few months ago with the Russian ruble. Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association says while interest rates and inflation have skyrocketed, one thing is missing. "We have not yet seen bankruptcies take places there, a shrinkage in industrial production, or mass unemployment. And how much of that is because of the government propping up certain things is a really good question." Interestingly, the EEU is getting ready to expand further. Armenia is now a member, and Kyrgyzstan is gearing up to join. Is this a new Soviet-Union-style situation? Griffith has some concerns. "What impact will this have on the churches--our brothers and sisters that we're serving over there? How is this going to impact their families? And, of course, [how will this impact] the ability of the churches to be able to travel, to evangelize, and get the Gospel out?" The economic issues are compounding the refugee crisis in Ukraine, which SGA is also involved in. Griffith says these colossal problems aren't all bad news. He says many are beginning to ask questions. "They're really struggling to try to make sense of it all, and they begin to wrestle with these eternal questions: 'Why is this happening? What's my future going to be?' And that creates such an open door for the churches to come in with the eternal hope of the Gospel." While many have labeled evangelical Christianity cult-like behavior, Griffith says the church is changing that. "When they're able to provide a parcel of food, and people are actually able to get to know these believers on a one-to-one basis, all of a sudden they're finding out the stories they've heard for so many years aren't true." Prayer is vital during this time. So is your generosity. You can find specific prayer needs and donate to SGA here. 
Categories: Mission Network News

ISIS cancer spreads to Central Asia

Mission Network News - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 5:00am

The region of Central Asia includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Central Asia (MNN) -- Like an aggressive cancer, ISIS is deepening its roots in Central Asian gateway nations Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trademark signs of ISIS invasion began surfacing this week.
  • As in Iraq, religious minorities in Pakistan were told to "convert or die."
  • A new ISIS recruitment video is calling Afghans to wage jihad against Jews and Christians.
  • Before landing on United States soil, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani publicly acknowledged -- for the first time -- the Islamic State's imminent threat to his country.
Earlier this month, Turkmenistan began sending troops to its border to ward against the growing ISIS presence in neighboring Afghanistan. In February, dozens of Hazara Shi'ite Muslims in route to Kabul were kidnapped by suspected ISIS terrorists. "Maybe ISIS is losing steam in some areas--some holdings they have had in Syria or Iraq, but they're gaining steam in other areas," observes Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI). Fight or flight? While Afghan President Ghani asks for U.S. help against ISIS this week, Pakistani officials are flexing their military muscles. "For the first time in seven years, the government is saying, 'Let's play this up big:' lots of military parades, air shows of the Air Force, things like that," says Allen, referring to Monday's Republic Day celebrations.

The Sherdils of Pakistan Air Force usually take part in the parade.
(Photo, caption via Wikipedia)

Republic Day, also referred to as Pakistan Day, is a national holiday commemorating the establishment of Pakistan in 1940 as the world's first Islamic Republic. No parades have been held to mark the holiday since 2008, when Taliban-military conflicts reached a peak. Many could interpret the grandiose military demonstrations as a "renewed" feeling of patriotism, Allen says, but he suspects ulterior motives. "Really what I think the government is trying to do is send a message to the terrorists: the military [is set] against terrorism," Allen states. Most of Pakistan's splintered Islamic terrorist cells have sworn allegiance to the black flag of jihad, he adds. "If ISIS says, 'Jump,' some of these groups will say, 'How high?'" The Good News FMI-supported pastors are responding by teaching Christians how to avoid trouble yet still share the Gospel. "We have a lot of good things coming up, even in the midst of all this havoc," Allen shares.

(Photo credit FMI)

Next month, FMI's national partners will be gathering pastors and their families together for a leadership conference. It will also be a time of mutual encouragement. "They also have some plans, after that conference, to be doing some ongoing theological training in three different cities," adds Allen. Normally, FMI empowers indigenous church leaders in Pakistan. But in light of all that's transpired, FMI-supported pastors felt it was important to extend this training to their lay members. "Anyone associated with that church--whether an elder, a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, or even just church members, [the pastors] want to get them more theological training, more understanding of the Bible," Allen explains. To help FMI's partners host the conference and introduce theological training, click here.
Categories: Mission Network News

Illiteracy does not stop the Word

Mission Network News - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo Courtesy to Gospel for Asia)

International (MNN) -- In Revelation 3:16 the Lord says to beware of the lukewarm Christian, the one who calls himself a Christian but does not live like one. Rohak is one such man who called himself a Christian but never went to church. His son, Pandita, says his dad was devoted to alcohol, not Christianity. One day a Gospel for Asia worker offered Rohak a copy of the New Testament. Despite being completely illiterate, he accepted it. When he returned home, Rohak handed the book to his son and asked him to read it out loud. Rohak listened as his son read from the book of Matthew. God’s Word began to stir in Rohak’s heart. After hearing the first mention of Jesus, in Matthew 1:18-19, he decided he wanted to hear from the Word of God every single day. The more Pandita read to his father, the more he thought about the Word. As God's Word was planted and took root, Rohak began to be transformed from the inside out. He gave up his alcohol addiction, and his desires changed. One day Rohak met a pastor who came to his village. He spoke with the pastor about attending church on a regular basis to learn more about the life of Jesus. He soon decided to completely give his heart to Christ. Your support can help Gospel for Asia bring God’s Word to more people like Rohak. Pray that Rohak and his son would grow in the Lord. Click here to learn more about the work of GFA.
Categories: Mission Network News

Megachurch Pastor James MacDonald: Focus on Jesus or End Up in a Ditch

Christian Post - Church & Ministry - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 5:42pm
"The number one reason why Christians get in the ditch: We got our eyes off Jesus, and we got our eyes on people," megachurch pastor James MacDonald told his Chicago-area congregation recently in a message entitled "New Power for the Distracted," which can be seen here.
Categories: Christian Post

PA man gets caught skipping jury duty

WGRC News - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 3:52pm

A Pennsylvania man who skipped out on jury duty 11 times in the last two years has been arrested inside a courthouse while seeking relief from a child support ruling. The Judge told 32-year-old Owen Fazenbaker III on Monday that he found it “ironic” that Fazenbaker could find his way to court for that but not for jury duty. Fazenbaker promised to serve on future juries if the judge would not impose a $500 fine and 10 days in jail for each time he has missed jury duty. The (Somerset) Daily American reports that the judge said the Stoystown man could avoid a seven-day jail term if he pays a $500 fine.

Categories: Local News

Debate over bad roads

WGRC News - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 3:51pm

Williamsport City Councilman Bill Hall who is currently running against mayor Campana in the mayoral race, held a news conference calling Campana on the carpet for his street repair record saying that taxpayers should expect to get their money’s worth and that city streets are in bad condition. The Mayor countered by saying that the city has gone through a couple of bad winters, He said we will pave and repair at least 25 streets using $4 million of funding sources. Democratic candidate Emily Gale said she would like to do more research to find funding sources to repair city streets.

Categories: Local News

Haggai ripple effect: school in India pushing beyond potential

Mission Network News - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 5:00am

Neena Williams (screenshot via youtube).

India (MNN) -- Neena Williams thought she had reached the end of her ministry. But then she encountered Haggai Institute. Her school with four small graduating classes grew to five schools and education ministry to slum children. Williams says of Mount Carmel, "I started a school in 1972 and it was with 12 children." By the end of the next school year, Williams was teaching 25 children, and the numbers continued to grow. "That's when it struck me that after having had these kids for two or three years and what I was able to teach them, I said, 'Here is something that can continue until they finish high school, and that would be a great impact for the Lord,'" Williams says. Williams' husband soon joined her in running the school, resigning from his job in the Air Force and bringing in logistical help for running the schools. By 1985, and one class at a time, Williams says the school had grown to grade 12. "Meanwhile, we applied for land, and that is another miracle that we got prime land in the heart of the city," she says. They paid 12,000 rupees, or just under $200, for 2 acres of land. There's always room to grow By 1986, Williams thought the school had reached its full potential. Then she attended classes at Haggai Institute in 1990. "That's where I realized this was not the end of the ministry," says Williams. "The ministry was, the vision was, that these children grow in their physical stature, in their mental capacities, and in favor with God and man just like the Lord Jesus did in Luke 2:52." That was the starting place for more growth, says Williams. "It had a great impact on me. Basically, the subjects which really touched me and really changed me--transformed me--was Goal Setting, of course. And then there was Effective Communication." Williams was able to learn communication skills that combatted her fear of talking to adults. In addition, Williams was encouraged by the subject of "Christian Leadership." The ripple effects of training with Haggai Pretty soon the Williams realized it was not enough to have just one school. They prayed about it. Now they have five schools with 500 teaching staff and 300 supporting staff. And all of the schools support the vision to share the Gospel with those who are lost. "Our constitution gives us the guarantee--Article 25-30--to the minorities to establish educational institutions to propagate their own beliefs with freedom and without fear. And so we are able to talk about the Lord Jesus Christ," Williams says. Mount Carmel says they make it clear to the parents and students that the school is based on the Bible. Even so, many parents who don't believe in the Bible think it's a small price to pay for the excellent education their children will receive. "90% of my students and 60% of my teachers are from other faiths. I have never encountered any problems. Firstly, in India there's a great respect for God and a great respect for Christian education because they feel the best education is given by the Christians," Williams says. "The ministry is to all of them--the children, the teachers, the workers, the parents. And it's an amazing ministry because the Lord has given us so much credibility in the city. And He has established us and established our name, and we are among the leading schools in the city." The work continues Thinking her ministry was over nearly 30 years ago, now her entire perspective for potential has been changed. "I'm 73 now, but I think I can go on and start another one also because really it's an amazing work for the Lord," says Williams. "The children are so receptive, my teachers are so receptive, and it's the Lord's work. That's all I can say." More recently, the Williams have started educating children from the slums. These are children who have never been to school and never will go to school unless someone helps them out. Now they serve about 250 kids with additional staff. The children are taught in English and are trained in practical skills. Williams says they encourage the children who are mostly girls to go home and teach their parents what they've learned. The hope is that training and education will empower women to fight some of the atrocities they are often subject to. Haggai equips leaders with the tools and information to impact their world. Williams explains that it is very important that national leaders are taught these things because outsiders are often not welcome to work in ministry. So it's helpful if leaders can do something powerful right at home. "If we have to preach Christ in a way that is relevant to our society and our way, then I think it is we ourselves who can do it," Williams says. Why you should help Haggai enables people with the vision to win people for God's Kingdom to learn valuable skills. And they're able to do this due to the financial gifts of partners like you. Williams shares reasons why you should help that might surprise you. "To have trained me to have done this, I think that's a great work. And let me tell you one thing more. I took it as a steward. "I was so touched that someone invested, at that time, $9,000 to train me. And I said, 'I am a debtor, and I'm going to pay that back.' And that's when I started my ministry with Haggai Institute." Williams paid back the amount spent on her and continued to volunteer for training at the institute. She says Haggai taught her to be generous. You can be generous to someone in need as well. Click here for more information. She asks for your help in another area as well: "Please pray because every day we preach the Gospel."
Categories: Mission Network News

A chance meeting changes two worlds in China

Mission Network News - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 5:00am

(Stock photo airline courtesy Wikipedia/ARTurista)

China (MNN) -- "There's no such thing as coincidence." You've probably heard that statement from people who have just come off of a pretty amazing situation in which an unlikely set of circumstances came together, God brought people together, and "stuff happened." That's exactly what happened with Bibles For China. BFC President Wendell Rovenstine says one day he got a message out of the blue. "I had a gentleman text me and said he feels like he should be going to China." At roughly the same time, he got this message from a ministry supporter: "'You know, I told a gentleman about you--he was flying with me. He was from Florida. I think he may be contacting you. I encouraged him to go to China to be involved in seeing what God is doing.'" As it turns out, the two men were seat mates on a flight. They began talking about China, and the ministry supporter suggested that he look at www.BiblesForChina.org to just explore the nudge a little more. Rovenstine says, "He's going with us on this trip this time. He's so excited about going and making a difference. He's shared his vision, and his heart with his church. They've more than supported his trip and are purchasing Bibles for him."

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

All it took was a vision for rural China and the willingness to share both passion and information. "It was a God-ordained opportunity because: here is a total stranger who meets another total stranger. They become friends. One is a supporter of the ministry, who's never had opportunity to go to China, telling this gentleman about the opportunity that exists. The gentleman who's going with us to China says he can't wait to come back and share with his friend he was flying with what he observes and sees." He goes on to say, "The gentleman I just told you about gets the opportunity to go over and touch China, provide them Scripture-engagement portions. It will help those people he touches in China to be those that will go and make disciples." That team leaves today, returning April 7th, celebrating with 10 rural churches receiving Bibles. With each opportunity, there are more that are waiting. Rovenstine says, "We really spend a lot of time in God's Word, seeking His direction and leadership. Then we say, 'Lord, send us those who are ready for the whitened harvest.' He sends us those that co-labor with us." There are two trips in April. The first trip leaves the 12th returning the 23rd.  The second April trip leaves the 21st returning May 1.

(Photo courtesy Bibles For China)

There are also two trips in July and several being finalized this month for September, October, and November. Bibles For China is working with multiple networks, locations, and opportunities this year. The funds raised for Bibles in the next two months will determine how many rural Chinese Christians will receive a Bible. Each Bible is $5, and no gift is too small or too large. It's not too late to consider going on the fall trips, either. Click here to explore that opportunity. Given the logistics involved, Rovenstine says, "Pray for everyone that senses they want to do something for the Lord that's significant. Just pray that the Lord gives us favor, protects, and looks after God's Word touching someone that makes an eternal commitment for Christ." Is this story touching a nerve for you? Remember, there's no such thing as coincidence. Follow the current teams here, or discover more about Bibles For China here.    
Categories: Mission Network News

Work stops for the Gospel

Mission Network News - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 5:00am

(Photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

Burma (CAM) -- [Editor's Note: This Christian Aid Mission story shares how crucial missionaries’ Gospel work is in Burma.] In Burma (Myanmar), poor ethnic villagers in the predominantly-Buddhist country are usually too busy trying to eke out a living to listen to gospel presentations, but one native missionary reached a remote village where hundreds of people listened to him for three days. It took two days, usually on very hazardous and steep roads, for Pastor George* and his team to arrive at the village that had around 300 homes. As villagers spend most days cutting down trees to make clearings for hillside cultivation, the only explanation Pastor George had for the welcome he received was the work of the Holy Spirit. “Usually the villagers are very busy every day,” George said. “However, I praise and thank God, because during our ministry, which lasted three days, no one went to work, and 300 people listened when we preached the Word of God.” People from six other villages also came to the evangelistic meetings. “I was able to preach and propound the Word of God from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” George said. “God saved 20 people and restored more than 40 people who were backsliding. There are many nominal believers and those worshiping evil spirits in the village, and some of them were brought closer to God.” Indigenous evangelists have been carrying the torch of gospel proclamation in Burma since the regime expelled all foreign church workers in 1966. Operation World notes, “Momentum in evangelism is building as an indigenous missions movement begins to flourish.” Christians now account for about 9% of Burma´s population. With a poverty rate of 73%, sparsely populated Chin is the poorest state in a resource-rich country mired in government corruption and mismanagement. In a country where most people survive on the equivalent of one U.S. dollar a day, Pastor George´s ministry is planning to provide a rice bank for the village; the ministry seeks $4,000 to buy rice that it will then sell to villagers at a low price. “Especially in the rainy season, they cannot go out to buy rice because of bad transportation or the roads,” he said. “This will allow the poor people to buy and eat rice. So, pray for funds for a rice bank.” Some of the villages don't have enough clean water, and the ministry would like to provide pipes and a water tank to transport water from natural mountain springs at a cost of $5,000. George also said a nursery school seeks $1,000 in supplies and upkeep for one year, and that $2,000 is needed for tuition and food costs for 35 poor teenagers to attend high school. “Pray for all the people in Chin state to receive the gospel and be redeemed and saved,” he added, saying two evangelistic campaigns cost about $1,000. In spite of democratic reforms, a new constitution, and a civilian president, the military junta that ruled Burma for decades still exercises influence. The separatist movements growing out of long-denied promises of autonomy for Burma's ethnic regions are still fighting government forces. Among the separatist militias are those of the ethnic Karen and Chin, which the government regards with particular anathema since they are largely Christian. Using religion as one way to build uniformity, the government encourages the Buddhism of the majority and sees Christianity as divisive. The government tacitly supports atrocities against Christian civilians in war zones. Most recently soldiers from the Burma Army reportedly gang-raped and killed two women, 20- and 21-year-old teachers working for the Kachin Baptist Convention, in Shan state the night of Jan. 19 and early hours of Jan. 20. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that the troops attacked the women in Kawng Hka Shabuk village, Muse District, as they slept. “Villagers nearby heard the girls screaming, and when they went to check, they saw Burma Army boot prints and the raped and bloodied bodies of the dead girls,” CSW reported. “The church members went to the Burma police in this area, but the police have taken no action.” Since the Burma Army broke a 17-year ceasefire in its conflict with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in June 2011, the Kachin Women's Association Thailand has documented more than 70 cases of gang-rape, rape, and attempted sexual violence by Burma Army soldiers in Kachin and Shan states. The fighting between the KIA and the Burma Army has taken place in Kachin state as well as northwestern Shan state. A ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission in Shan state is planning to build a house where refugee children from the fighting can live, as well as obtain schooling. “We have some children from civil war victims,” said the director of the indigenous ministry working in the undisclosed village. “We are praying for a small piece of land to build at least a wooden house for the children to live in and go to school.” The cost of the land sought is $2,500, and the ministry is considering three types of building materials: a 48-ft. x 20-ft. bamboo screen house for $1000, a wooden house for $1,800, or a brick building that would cost more. “We pray to build a 48-ft. x 20-ft. house, because we want to accept more children,” the ministry director said. “If we can have our own land and have a building, then we will accept more children from the Kachin border. Right now we have four children.” A water well about 500 feet from the proposed site would supply the children's needs, if the land sought can be purchased, and a water tank will also be required. A source for electricity is also about 500 feet away from the site, and the ministry would need to apply for a meter box, buy a cable and post, and install it, all for a cost of about $800. “Thank you very much for your prayers and support for this essential program,” the director recently wrote. “Thank you very much for all your prayers for our ministries' needs. Pray for the Lord's work to move forward.” You can bring support to indigenous missionaries in Burma by clicking here. * Name changed for security reasons.
Categories: Mission Network News