Just a couple of days ago I had the honor of sitting down with some brothers from South Sudan while they shared about their nation. One of the stories that still haunts me is of how soldiers are renting out their weapons from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so that people can go looting. The soldiers haven’t been paid for five to six months and are literally starving, so the offer of a month’s salary just for renting out their weapon is hard to resist. Even if money makes it into the system it is taken by corrupt generals and officers, thus making the soldiers even angrier and more likely to make poor decisions. It’s a tragic scenario that leaves me asking myself what hope there is for the world. I think many of us are feeling that way right now.
Last week we held the TCT East Africa Forum. We had 32 participants from seven countries. I shared about how against all odds, God turned up through the TCT program and communities moved out of poverty. On paper there was no hope. The work was illegal (the government didn’t allow church training). I wasn’t exactly what the church was looking for—young, white and female. Everyone said it was foolish and wouldn’t work. In fact even I didn’t believe it would. But it did. Because of God.
Christmas is approaching. It’s a season when Christians all over the world love to share about their faith. Unfortunately, that also means that it’s a time when persecution increases.
I live in what is labelled a ‘closed’ or ‘creative access’ country. Basically that means the church here faces persecution, and while it’s definitely not as bad as it once was, it’s been a constant theme for me for the past 20 years. People are chased by the police, forced to hide or disguise themselves. People are beaten, their homes and fields are burnt, their families reject them, and they are thrown out of their villages. These are real, painful things. I know what it means to be scared, and I certainly don’t want to minimize it. Thinking back on some of my own experiences still makes me shudder. BUT, it’s not the whole story. Those snapshots are true. But I think too often we don’t tell the whole story, so we end up painting a picture of persecution that leaves God out.
Here are a few more snapshots of persecution.
It’s #GivingTuesday, the day when we all plead with you to send us any spare pennies that remain after the joys of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re changing it up a bit this year, though. We aren’t asking for your pennies, but rather something that probably feels even more scarce to you—your time. But before you click off to read something else, let me at least say—we’re just looking for you to commit an hour a month for the next 12 months—that’s all. You can breathe easier now.
Wow, phew, it’s been quite the month so far. The USA is still reeling from elections and New Zealand (my home country) was rocked by earthquakes. India, where I have a number of friends and we have lots of partners, fell into confusion when the government suddenly banned 80 percent of the paper money in circulation. For me personally, someone I knew passed on to heaven, and I had to jump into meetings when I really needed time to get my head around everything. All in all, the second week of November felt completely overwhelming.
When we are feeling exhausted, anxious, or off-balance, it’s important to focus on What is True. Here are a few grounding truths that I have learned in 20 years of working with the Church around the world:
In July I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have a great team there, working on implementing the TCT program amongst more than 1000 churches. As I was leaving, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to come again until February, because from November to January they would be having riots. While one of the things that I admire about the Congolese is their fantastic strategic planning skills, I was slightly amused that they had already blocked calendar dates for a riot.
It turns out there are supposed to be elections in December but the current President (who has completed his maximum of two terms) is refusing to step down or organize elections. As a result, people are expecting violence. As we drove through the city to the airport, our leaders pointed out areas where there were likely to be lives lost. It was a strange and sobering reality.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b
Here in the wonderful world of Reconciled World we are getting more focused on prayer. As we arrive at the grand age of three years old, we have learned a few things. For one, the incredible importance of prayer and how much we need you (yes YOU, reader), and your church and friends to join us in praying.
As Nam shared last week, the gospel is a partnership. It’s not something one person, even the apostle Paul, can do alone. It takes the whole body of Christ. We are designed for unity. We need people to do the hard work of praying.
There are two key reasons why we need your prayers:
October 1 was our birthday. Reconciled World celebrates being three years old. Each year has been marked by a theme. The first year was a year of stability—we celebrated that we had come into existence and survived. The second year was growth—we added a bunch of new countries. I travelled to every continent but Antarctica that year. This past year was systems—we worked hard on a rebranding effort which will be revealed in the months to come, all new tools, a fantastic story book. We also added staff in Africa, redesigned the leadership team and a bunch more stuff. Since I’m an overachiever I thought I would also take on the task of writing a booklet helping people to apply the lessons God has taught us in the last 15-plus years. That booklet is already 20,000 words and is not finished!
I’m currently in the States, traveling around speaking at conferences, at churches and at various organizations. As I do, I share again many stories of what God is doing around the world. Sharing with a pastor today, I was reminded of a powerful story, one that started a few years ago and is still ongoing. It’s the story of the incredible sacrifice that some make for the gospel and God’s incredible faithfulness in the midst of that suffering.
In one village there were five Christian families. The chief of that village decided he didn’t want Christians in his village, so he tried to force them to denounce their faith. They refused. The chief had the village members beat the members of the five families. When the denominational leaders heard about the situation, they sent two people to the area to try to negotiate on their behalf. The villagers also beat them up and burnt their motorbike so they had to run for their lives. The villagers then burnt down the houses and destroyed the crops of the five families so they were forced to flee. The chief held fast that to live in that village they had to renounce their faith. If they continued to stay there then they would be killed.
One of the fun things about traveling around the world is there are numerous opportunities to celebrate the new year arriving. The Buddhist New Year falls in April, Ethiopian New Year is in September, and Jewish New Year is celebrated each autumn.This week it’s the Lunar New Year – celebrated in most of East Asia – China, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore to name a few.
In these countries, the Lunar New Year is a huge event, a time for families to get together and celebrate. Think Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one. It’s also a time when thousands of new Christians will be heading home to visit their families for the first time since becoming a Christian, and they need our prayers.
There are three things that can make going home difficult as a new Christian:
My first experiences in community development taught me one lesson – it’s not as easy as I would like. It always felt like a dance. Sometimes we did see good results but often it felt like one step forward and two backwards. Some of our experiences were great and sometimes we found out that while things can improve in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean a life transformed. For example, more money doesn’t always mean better educated children, it may mean parents buying more alcohol.
In only three years of community development work I was already starting to ask if I had missed something, was there another way of addressing the needs that we saw around us. Around that time I attended a conference. One of the conference speakers, Bob Moffitt of Harvest Foundation shared three truths.