My earliest memory of being aware of refugees even existing simply involves sitting in a living room with a family I couldn’t talk to (because we didn’t speak the same language), and being served my first cup of Turkish coffee in a beautiful, tiny demitasse cup. I was about 16, and I had no idea what this family had experienced or how they had landed in a town near me. I still don’t, not specifically. But they changed my life with their hospitality, at a time when my world was very small.
Over time, God has provided more and more touch points for me with refugee families. Opportunities to help set up apartments, welcome families, and walk with them for a time. Opportunities to hear their stories and their dreams. Every time, I receive from them so much more than I give—a more complex world, a softer heart, a bigger God.
As I am sitting in a cab on my way home from a meeting with Rahham’s director and his family, fresh information and vibrant images swirl around in my head. Did you know that HIV-infected people need up to 30 percent more nutrition than healthy people? Or that it is often co-infections, like tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis C, that end up killing infected people, because their immune systems become so weak? Have you ever thought of what it would be like, as a healthy child, to live with HIV-infected parents and siblings? Or how difficult it is to keep a job when your body is constantly busy fighting off disease and infection?
If, like me, you haven’t followed news and research about HIV closely since it ceased to be a hot topic, let me bring you up-to-date on some basic issues. HIV can be spread in four different ways: through sex, from infected mother to child, by sharing needles, and through blood transfusion. There are antiretroviral (ART) centers all around the world where people can get tested, and if HIV-positive, can receive medication. They then have to take this cocktail of drugs designed for them, usually twice a day for the rest of their lives, to keep the virus dormant. As Rahham’s director explains it, you want to keep the cobra in the cage. You will never be cured, you will never kill the snake, but you can keep the disease at bay and live a long life if you are able to follow protocol and take care of yourself.
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.
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:
I have memories of Women’s Day ever since I was in elementary school. Growing up in Europe, March 8th was a good day to be a girl. Boys would give us flowers at school, husbands would surprise their wives with a bouquet, my dad would get chocolate for his girls. It was natural for me that women are beautiful, valuable, hard-working creatures who should be celebrated. I didn’t know there were parts of the world where being born a girl was undesirable or even dangerous.
India also observes International Women’s Day, honoring women’s accomplishments in different ways on this day, but acknowledging that women are equal to men is still not an everyday reality. There has been much progress in recognizing women’s value in the last 30 to 50 years, but traditions and mindsets are slow to change and some women suffer “from womb to tomb.”
A few years ago my wife and I gave our 8-year-old daughter a Bible for her birthday. It’s not exactly a children’s Bible (giant pictures with two sentences of writing) but it isn’t a King James Bible with 300 pages of index either. It is kind of in between; part pictures to keep her intrigued other part substantial reading to teach her truth. While I know she reads it at night before she sleeps I don’t know exactly what book she is reading or how far through the Bible she has gotten. However, I have sneaky suspicion that she has at least read through the book of Luke…. Here’s why.
Not long ago I came across the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The story is about a widow who kept coming to a judge in the town with a plea for justice: “Grant me justice for my adversary.” (Luke 18:3)
Prayer: more than a technique but a practice of presence.
I can almost picture in my mind the scene in Mark 9: 14-29 so vividly unfolding…
Jesus comes down from the mountain (possibly glowing like Moses glowed after he met God on Mt. Sinai?? ) where he had just witnessed the transfiguration with Peter, James and John, only to walk into an argument between the teacher’s of the law and the other disciples.
Apparently, according to the story as told by Mark, the disciples had attempted to heal a boy who was demon possessed and were unsuccessful. This failure had lead to a prolonged argument with the teachers of the law. Imagine how embarrassed the disciples must have been? Jesus had given the Twelve authority to cast out demons (3:15) and they had used that power successfully on past occasions (6:13) here though something had gone dreadfully wrong. How awkward that must have been for those men!
“So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.” Ezra 8:23
In one TCT community, the church decided that they wanted to build stable homes for everyone in the community. They did a survey of the area and decided there were 35 houses that were about to fall down and needed to be rebuilt or repaired. Over time, the church members worked together to collect resources and provide manpower and they were able to finish 17 of the 35 homes. However, after completing the 17th house they realized they had no resources left to rebuild the remaining 18 houses. So, rather than becoming discouraged and giving up on the task they had set out to complete, the church members decided to get together to pray and fast one night to ask God to help them finish the project.
The next morning as they left the church, large trucks filled with building materials pulled up outside the church and started dumping their loads. Confused, the church members rushed to tell the truck drivers that they had the wrong address. No one had ordered any building materials and no one there was able to pay for all they were dropping off. The truck drivers quickly responded that the materials were the church’s responsibility now, and if they didn’t want the materials there they would have to move them. Further discussion revealed that the materials were surplus from a nearby warehouse and they were being disposed of to make way for new materials. The materials were free. When the church leaders asked the truck drivers why they had dumped the materials there, in front of the church the drivers didn’t really know how to respond, they simply replied, “We were tired of driving, and just felt like dumbing the materials so we could get back to the warehouse.”
The materials miraculously turned out to be enough to finish the rest of the houses for the community. When the people in the comunity realized that they could not complete the task on their own, they looked to God to provide for them. They knew that depending on God would yield powerful results, they just didn’t realize how powerful.
Just imagine the work God could do in our lives and and the lives of those around us if we depended more on Him. Our challenge to you is to identify the areas in your life that you need to depend more on God. We can promise you that once you put it in His hands, He will not disappoint.