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CUBA UPDATE

DSCF0022Called the “Cuban Thaw,” agreements between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro has led to a “warming” of US/Cuba relations.  While this may seem good for the Cuban people, it’s only after years of persecution and restrictions on the church in Cuba. During the Revolution, many churches and their properties were seized and taken over by the government.  I spent three days visiting the  Methodist seminary in Havana last year. See my blog posts “Reflections from Cuba Part 1 and Part 2. That seminary, started in 1920, was seized during the Revolution, and finally given back to the church in 2004 in a dilapidated condition, and has been undergoing reconstruction to get it functioning again as an institute of higher Christian education.
EPC Pastor Tom Masterson (Hope EPC, San Antonio), who visits Cuba on a regular basis, is sensitive to the attack of the Cuban government on the church in Cuba, and knows the “warming” is for pure political posturing and ignores many past offenses. Tom doesn’t pull punches, “The normalizing of US relations with the Castro regime is a heinous insult to the millions of Christians who have been persecuted by these criminals over the past 6 decades.  We need to adopt a policy that will hold evil accountable, not ignore offenses and reward hatred.”
DSC02924Despite the persecution and oppression the church did manage to grow during these dark years of Communism.  Then as the Cuban government was forced to back off from its previous tactics because it no longer had the financial backing of the Soviet Union, the church began to explode with growth.   The Cuban constitution was changed in 1992 to prohibit any discrimination against Christians. With the lifting of some of the more harsh restrictions, we have seen some unparalleled growth in evangelical churches in Cuba. Tom Masterson wrote, “The growth of the Cuban church in recent decades is explosive!  The miracle is that evangelical churches actually doubled in size during the 30 years of active persecution.  They have more than doubled again since 1992.  It would be hard to find a place in the world where the church is growing faster than it is in Cuba.”
In their April, 2015 newsletter Overseas Council (OC), who has an active ministry in multiple seminaries in Cuba, cited three statements from an Operations World report: the church has multiplied at impressive rates since the 1990’s; Cuba’s challenging environment has refined the church; and church leadership remains an urgent need.
OC goes on to state, “as the government tried to stifle Christian growth by making it nearly impossible to build new churches, the resulting house church movement has proved even more fruitful.” OC also reports that many church leaders fled the country or were expelled following the Revolution and the church is in great need of rebuilding leadership.
Seminaries and seminary students are now playing a great part in church planting and church expansion in Cuba.  In many of the seminaries, students are becoming home church pastors even before they graduate. When they do graduate, they are shepherding churches, planting new churches and training protégé pastors.  OC reported that, “The Methodist denomination has experienced renewal. Its 125 congregations meet in church buildings built before the revolution, but since building permits for new churches are not obtainable, congregations start in homes, now numbering 300. Add in 800 smaller home meetings (less than 25 in size), and you’ll see how the Church has grown by 10% annually in 10 years.”DSCF0077
IMG_4349It’s not just the Methodists that are making strides. When I was in Cuba, I also visited the reformed campus of New Pines Evangelical Seminary in Placetas which has had similar success in its graduating students’ planting churches and growing the Cuban evangelical church. Founded in 1924 the school was also ravished during the Revolution by having school property seized. But since 1992, the school has regained some of the lost property. A new property purchased has given room for a farm to produce the school’s need for food, making it more self-sustaining. With over 800 graduates, the seminary has planted several other seminaries in Cuba.  I was able to spend a day and night at one of these seminaries in Matanzas and had the privilege of meeting some great people at their home on Sunday morning. Planted and run by K and E (names withheld for security), both graduates of New Pines, this couple has great plans. They have purchased a large section of land in the center of town where they have started to build a new and much larger home that will accommodate a number of guests.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Travels, World Christianity

 

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NEPAL: QUAKE AID IS NEEDED

NEPAL: QUAKE AID IS NEEDED

I interrupt my Historical Church series to bring you an urgent story for TODAY’s GLOBAL CHURCH needs.

2015_Nepal_earthquake_ShakeMap_version_6As you must know, Nepal has suffered an earthquake that has killed thousands, injured many more and destroyed entire villages and communities, including Christian churches. According to the latest Wikipedia report, the 2015 Nepal earthquake occurred at 11:56 NST on April 25, with a magnitude of 7.8 or 8.1 and a maximum Mercalli Intensity (see graph to right) of IX which is violent. Its epicenter was the village of Barpak, Gorkha district, and its hypocenter was at a depth of approximately 9.3 mi. The quake was the most powerful disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake.

Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal within 15-20 minute intervals, with one shock reaching a magnitude of 6.7 on April 26 at 12:54 NST. The country also has a continued risk of landslides.

LIVES HAVE BEEN LOST

In Nepal the earthquake killed more than 7,500 and injured more than twice as many, as of 1 May 2015. Nepal’s Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, has said that the number could reach 10,000. The rural death toll may have been lower than it could have been as villagers were outdoors working when the quake hit.

The Himalayan Times reported that as many as 20,000 foreign nationals may have been visiting Nepal at the time of the earthquake, although reports of foreign deaths were relatively low. Hundreds of people are still considered missing and more than 450,000 are displaced.

A total of 78 deaths were reported in India – 58 in Bihar, 16 in Uttar Pradesh, 3 in West Bengal and 1 in Rajasthan.

Some casualties were also reported in the adjoining areas of China, and Bangladesh.

AVALANCHES ON MOUNT EVEREST

This earthquake caused many avalanches on Mount Everest. At least 19 climbers died, with others injured or missing, making it the deadliest day on the mountain in history. It triggered another huge avalanche in Langtang valley, where 250 were reported missing.

CITIES AND VILLAGES DESTROYED

Hundreds of thousands of houses were destroyed across many districts of the country, with entire villages flattened, especially those near the epicenter. The Tribhuvan International Airport serving Kathmandu was closed immediately after the quake, but was re-opened later in the day for relief operations and, later, for some commercial flights. It subsequently shut down operations sporadically due to aftershocks, and on May 3 was closed temporarily to the largest planes for fear of runway damage. Many workers were not at their posts, either from becoming earthquake casualties or because they were dealing with its after effects. Flights resumed from Pokhara, to the west of the epicenter, on April 27.

Reports from Christian websites reported that some church buildings fell onto the heads of congregations while they were praying, leaving at least 500 Christians dead. Several of the 400 churches in the Kathmandu valley were wiped out.

Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened, across many districts of the country. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

ECONOMIC EFFECTS

Concern was expressed that harvests could be reduced or lost this season as people affected by the earthquake would have only a short time to plant crops before the onset of the Monsoon rains.

Nepal, with a total Gross Domestic Product of USD$19.921 billion (according to a 2012 estimate), is one of Asia’s poorest countries, and has little ability to fund a major reconstruction effort on its own. The U.S. Geological Survey initially estimated economic losses from the temblor at 9 percent to 50 percent of gross domestic product, with a best guess of 35 percent. “It’s too hard for now to tell the extent of the damage and the effect on Nepal’s GDP”, according to Hun Kim, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) official.

FROM OUR FRIENDS ON THE GROUND

Friends in Southeast Asia that, for security reasons, need to be unnamed, have sent a couple of recent reports about what they are hearing and seeing.

“Friends,

We don’t live far from Nepal. Our city is about 200 kilometers south of Kathmandu. You undoubtedly know about the recent destruction in Kathmandu due to the earthquakes that happened there this past weekend.

We’ve felt those tremors and aftershocks here. Many people in our city have been terrified and run outside when things start shaking. Quite a few people have even chosen to sleep in the huge central square of our city. Other than a couple of cracks in the outside of our mall (and a few little ones in our office), we aren’t aware of any damage in our city. In the northern part of our state, closer to the Nepal border, there have been quite a number of deaths and reports of some damage. But none of this compares to the pictures that we are seeing in our newspapers and on TV news of the damage in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal.

Our organization has had folks working in Nepal for a number of years. In fact, just last week, two Nepali guys were here in our city to lead some training in using ethnic music styles as a way to communicate in oral cultures. Those guys, S and D, are reporting on great needs in their home areas in Nepal.”

And again on May 1, 2015, they wrote:

 “Dear Friends,

We’ll catch up on some of what has been going on here. This past weekend was interesting. We’re about 200 miles due south of Kathmandu. Of course, Kathmandu has been featured in global news lately. The earthquakes that have happened up there and destroyed much of that city, have been felt here…there was a big one and a number of aftershocks. The fact that the first big earthquake came when the weather was unusually stormy for this time of year…dark clouds, heavy winds, and some rain… that gave the whole day a rather apocalyptic feeling. The earthquake occurred when M and J were on their way home after dropping friends at the airport. Seeing everyone out on the street, some running, many looking up to the sky, made J check as well to see if Jesus was coming with a shout…. We can’t imagine what it has been like 200 miles north of here, except for what we see on the news, but knowing how frightened people have been here the last few days and how unsettled we’ve felt, gives us some insights. Fortunately, our state was spared major destruction. There have been dozens of deaths in our state but, of course, the real story has been in Nepal.”

We also have friends in South Asia, J and M. On 5/1/16 they wrote of their experience:

“As many of you must have heard, there was a terrifying earthquake in Nepal. We are less than 200 miles from Kathmandu and felt it strongly on Saturday. I was sitting in our 3rd floor apartment building when I felt the couch jiggling. After a couple of seconds I realized our entire building was swaying. I ran out into the hallway barefooted and fled down the stairs with other neighbors. Others were running up the stairs screaming for their children with terror on their faces. I was picturing our concrete building crumbling down, but it wasn’t bad enough for that to happen. About one minute after gathering outside, a lightning thunderstorm with dark clouds passed over and soaked us. It felt like, ‘wow, our lives seem completely out of our control’. I experienced dizziness and being off-balance the rest of the day. Superstition was strong among our neighbors and our landlord: they believed the moon had turned upside down and had moved from one part of the sky to another.

Several buildings were damaged in our city but nothing too terrible. Our office has several large cracks. There were a few dozen reported deaths in our state to the north of us, but obviously Nepal is where the real horror is. We have several connections there through ministry partners: Many people will be suffering for a long time from this. We pray for the light of the glory of God to shine through the wounds.”

AID THROUGH THE EPC AND FRIENDS

In the wake of the devastating earthquake, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is recommending World Relief and One Challenge (OC International Ministries) as relief agencies to which donations can be sent. OC International has been a co-op agency with the EPC for many years and has a significant presence in Nepal. Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk expressed:

“It is hard to comprehend the level of destruction and need. Ministries in Nepal—like One Challenge—that desperately want to minister to their neighbors are themselves suffering from the destruction and lack of basic resources.”

GIVING BY WEB

Churches and individuals can donate via websites to relief efforts in any of three ways:

Donate directly to World Relief

Give directly to One Challenge

Give to World Relief via the EPC

GIVING BY MAIL

You can also help by sending a check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated World Relief; send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church   •   17197 N. Laurel Park Dr., Suite 567   •   Livonia, MI 48152

WON’T YOU PLEASE HELP?

There are thousands (including fellow Christians) in need and we can’t leave it to the secular world or governments to do our calling as Christians. You certainly don’t have to be a part of the EPC to help through these channels!

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14

We need to show Jesus to the people of Nepal and to the world.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

Blessings, Dan

Photo: “2015 Nepal depremi (3)” by Hilmi Hacaloğlu – http://www.amerikaninsesi.com/media/photogallery/2739517.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2015_Nepal_depremi_(3).jpg#/media/File:2015_Nepal_depremi_(3).jpg

@WorldRelief   @OneChallengeInt @EPChurch #NepalEarthquake #NepalQuake

 

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EBOLA OUTBREAK CLOSES AFRICAN BIBLE COLLEGE IN LIBERIA

map-of-ebola-outbreak-in-guinea-sierra-leone-and-liberia-in-west-africaThree West Africa countries have been ravished by an outbreak of the Ebola virus; Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history has been blamed for 729 deaths in actually four West African countries this year… 339 in Guinea, 233 in Sierra Leone, 156 in Liberia and one in Nigeria. The numbers tragically continue to grow and Christian workers and institutions are not exempt from the disease’s impact. Recent reports by the World Health Organization say almost half of the 57 new deaths reported occurred in Liberia. Also in Liberia, authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers who have contracted the disease so far have died. In Sierra Leone, among the deaths was that of the chief doctor treating Ebola, Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan.

A friend of mine, Larry Brown, teaches at the African Bible College in Malawi, fortunately far from the center of the breakout. He sent me a notice he just got from Paul Chinchen, president of African Bible College [Liberia / Malawi / Uganda].

“Due to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone & Guinea, African Bible Colleges has made the decision to postpone the fall opening of ABC University in Yekepa, Liberia.

At present our Liberian faculty and staff at the campus in Yekepa are at low risk. The ABC University is 200 miles from the Ebola outbreaks in Monrovia and Lofa County. Meanwhile the 6 American and Canadian missionary staff who were scheduled to be at the college this fall are all stateside for the summer.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa is the worst in history. More people have died than in all other Ebola outbreaks combined. The U.S Government has withdrawn all of its Peace Corps staff from the region, SIM is evacuating 60 missionaries from the three countries — as have Samaritans Purse and COTN. Meanwhile the President of Sierra Leone (where some of our ABC students come from) has closed all schools and government offices. In Liberia the President has stopped all public gatherings, closed all land border crossings, and at least three airlines have stopped flights to Monrovia, including Delta Airlines.

Please be in diligent prayer for the two missionaries who contracted Ebola at the SIM/ELWA Hospital in Monrovia – (our ABC Monrovia Guest House is located on the same SIM compound). Both Dr Kent Brantly (Samaritans Purse) & Nancy Writebol (SIM) were working with Ebola patients when they became ill. They are at a very critical stage right now and your prayers are urgently needed.

ABC will make the decision when to reopen the campus in Yekepa when the Ebola crisis is under control. Meanwhile our mission has started work on literature that will be printed, translated and distributed by our ABC staff in Liberia that will educate local people on the virus, and how to prevent or control future outbreaks.”

Fox News reported (online, 7/31) about the workers that ABC President Chinchen mentions, and the seriousness of the Ebola disease.

Two gravely ill American medical workers in Liberia who were infected with the Ebola virus are said to be in stable condition as the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse works to bring them back to the U.S. for treatment.

Dr. Kent Brantly, the second American stricken by the disease, yesterday was offered an experimental serum but only one dose was provided. “Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol,” a nurse working with him who also infected, Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse said in a press release. “However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”

Samaritan’s Purse is working with the government to bring Brantly and Writebol back to the U.S. for treatment. Graham told Fox News that all agreements are in place and that he hopes they will be on a specially-equipped aircraft back home in a few days. He also noted that the plane will likely have to make a stop for refueling.

With regards to the experimental serum and blood treatment administered to two American patients, Frieden said the CDC does not know the details of what was given. The CDC have not found any evidence that any treatments are effective against Ebola.

“There are no proven treatments, no proven vaccines and there is not likely to be one for at least a year, even in the best case scenario,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is worsening and is the largest known in history and it will take at least 3-6 months, if everything goes well, to manage the outbreak, Frieden noted.

“It’s not going to be quick, it’s not going to be easy, but we know what to do,” he said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

African Bible College In Liberia Has Seen Tough Times Before…

The first African Bible College campus was opened in 1978 in the West African country of Liberia by Jack and Nell Chinchen. In December of 1989, the civil war began in Liberia.  The Liberian Civil War claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians (one out of every 17 people in the country) and sent a million refugees into camps in neighboring countries. And then in 1999 the Second Liberian Civil War broke out which further disrupted the operation of ABS.

ABC Liberia managed to stay open on and off during the early years of the war, but in 1992 the college was forced to close down completely for the next 16 years. In November of 2008, after two years of clearing brush and complete renovation of staff houses, dormitories, classrooms, offices and dining hall, the college was once again up and running.

…And The College Carries-On the Good Fight

The chief aim of African Bible College is to train Godly men and women for Christian leadership and service. The curriculum is designed to prepare the college’s graduates for Christian vocation. The degree is designed to be either terminal or preparatory for further education. Students are being trained for Christian leadership; consequently, the college desires students who are committed to God’s guidance and dedicated to the Lord’s service. ABC is distinctively a Bible college, and its courses are designed to hold to the highest academic standards. Its four-year program is of university standard, and the degree offered is parallel to the Bachelor of Arts degree awarded by other international universities and liberal arts colleges.

ABS is training Christian leaders that take their training to the world where they live. Today African Bible Colleges has nearly 800 graduates serving in a wide spectrum of Christian ministry from program production at TransWorld Radio, orphan care with Children of the Nations, leadership positions at Campus Crusade (Life Ministries), and HIV ministries with World Relief, to planting churches in the former communist stronghold of Mozambique. These are only a few of the places ABC graduates are making an impact and they are proving to be a key component in the evangelization and transformation of Africa.

Prayer Needs

1.  Pray for the people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia that are affected by Ebola either personally or by family members.
2.  Pray that African Bible College will be able to re-open soon so they can continue their work of preparing students.
3.  Pray that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol will survive their sickness and live-on to continue their mission in Africa.
4.  Pray that God will show His glory during this season of suffering in West Africa.

 

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in World Christianity

 

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Changes Are In The Wind!

As much as I have loved serving the ministry of Overseas Council (OC) for the past six years, I have loved my church denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) even longer.  So while I am sad to soon be leaving the daily workings of OC, I am thrilled to be called to God’s work with World Outreach of the EPC.

On April 15, Dr. David Baer, president of OC, made this announcement, in part…

“Dan Tidwell, our Southern US Regional Director with OC’s Advancement Team, and his wife Helen, have accepted a call from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as World Outreach missionaries.   Dan will continue to work in his current role with OC through May, 2014. I want to thank Dan and Helen for all they have done for OC since April, 2008, and I’m sure my voice is just one of many in the OC family that does so. We wish the Tidwells all the best in their new endeavor.  It will be exciting to serve as observers and cheerleaders of the things that will be accomplished for Christ’s Kingdom through Dan’s and Helen’s faithful service with World Outreach.”

I thank David for his kind words and depart OC and my many friends there, with love, to venture into a new ministry.

ON TO NEW BEGINNINGS

I am happy to report that I and my wife are now “on the rolls” of World Outreach as missionaries, working stateside! We will be officially installed at the EPC General Assembly in June in Knoxville.

I will have a split role with half of my time serving as the Communication Coordinator for WO and the other half of my time as an Associate with the International Theological Education Network (ITEN).

  • World Outreach Communications Coordinator: I will be responsible for communicating and marketing the programs and mission efforts of World Outreach (WO) to the individuals, pastors and congregations of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The WO communications will be in the form of written communication, social media communication, multi-media presentations, website, public presentation and personal contact. The position will serve the EPC and WO in various capacities including church liaison, marketing, publications coordinator and WO ministry spokesman.
  • International Theological Education Network Associate: I will be speaking about ITEN to individuals, churches, and presbytery mission leaders , developing materials that promote ITEN, developing website information for ITEN, contacting foundations, churches, and individuals for development of financial support for the ITEN ministry. ITEN is a ministry track of EPC’s World Outreach focused on theological education and leadership training for nationals. Simply put, the purpose of ITEN is: ‘…to develop teachers among unreached peoples who will develop teachers among other unreached peoples.’ ITEN works in tandem with our track for church planting among unreached peoples, particularly Muslims.

I am excited about this opportunity and I have received some great endorsements and encouragement from those already serving World Outreach. Don Elliot, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Corinth, MS, and World Outreach Committee member said,

“Dan Tidwell is going to give World Outreach in the EPC something it has not had before: the opportunity to tell the stories of our missionaries to every person in the pew. God is moving in World Outreach and Dan will help us see His work more clearly.”

George Carey, World Outreach Director, had these kind words to say, in part,

“I could not be more thrilled to endorse Dan as our new Communications Coordinator. I have known Dan for several years since being in my current position and have seen his consistent enthusiasm for communicating the truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He and Helen were unanimously, with great joy, approved by the EPC World Outreach Committee to become missionaries to help tell this awesome story that World Outreach has been entrusted with to spread around the world.”

BUT THE STORY CONTINUES

While the plans are made, I cannot officially embark on this venture until my ministry self-funding iWO Photo Cards complete.  So, I hope to be able to launch this ministry fully by September.  (If you’re moved to help in this endeavor your kindness would be most appreciated!)  It is with great joy that Helen and I embark on this ministry journey and we hope you will join us with prayer and blog reading as we follow God’s call in His kingdom work.  I will continue my blog but now with a new perspective as I travel both nationally and internationally for World Outreach. I will continue to tell the story of the global church with more opportunities to reflect on the people I meet, places I see and things that I hear.

EPC note: If you are a member of an EPC church, please pass this blog to others in
your church. I would love to visit your church and tell you more about WO and ITEN.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Mission, World Christianity

 

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A Story From Iran

Every now and then I read and hear a story that really requires no introduction or set-up but just a strong recommendation to follow a link and see for yourself. This is one of those stories from the Overseas Council website. It was just posted a few days ago so it is time relevant and very moving.

A STORY OF TRUE COURAGE

Elam-LadanThe story is about Ladan, a courageous young woman that is Iranian born; raised in a Muslim family; called to Christ; and fearing arrest, left her homeland and fled to Turkey.

“It was there in Turkey that I felt the burden; a great a burden to go and tell people about Jesus. I was tasting the love of Jesus more, and also knowing Him more.”

To Ladan, to be Christian meant to take the Word seriously and return to her native country to share the Gospel with her countrymen.  She knew she would face persecution, possibly prison and maybe even death.  But nevertheless, she felt the call of God to share the Good News with lost people.

“Even with all my fears and worry, I felt I had to return to Iran, and give this message to my people.”

To learn about Ladan and hear her testimony in her own words in a 9 minute video, I highly encourage you to go to http://overseas.org/ladan-courageously-endures-prison-for-sharing-the-bible/You’ll be moved by her story as she truly reflects the words of Jesus in Luke 21:12-16.

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.  But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.

THE HISTORICAL CHURCH IN IRAN

Iran is on the news much these days concerning nuclear power, economic sanctions, aggressive behavior and a host of stories of terrorism. We hear little about the Christians there despite the fact that Christians have occupied the area for centuries. According to Acts 2:9 there were Persians, Parthians and Medes among the gathering at Pentecost and heard the Apostles in their own language.  Many old churches remain in Iran from the early days of Christianity. The Church of St. Mary in northwestern Iran for example, is considered by some historians to be the second oldest church in Christendom after the Church of Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Today, only about 2% of the population is non-Muslim, and Christians are among the least minority. But the good news is that Christianity is reported to be the fastest growing religion in Iran. In 1976, the Christian population numbered 168,593 people, mostly Armenians. Due to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, almost half of the Armenians migrated to the newly independent Republic of Armenia and Christian numbers decreased. However, the opposite trend has occurred since 2000, and the number of Christians with Iranian citizenship increased to 109,415 in 2006.*

*Some fact and figures obtained from wikipedia.org

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in World Christianity

 

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The Middle East: An Enigma of Persecution and Hope for the Christian Church

Reading this weekend from an article in Fox News Online (February 11, 2014 – FoxNews.com) Christian persecution in the Middle East continues. As Fox reported…

“In a rare appearance on Capitol Hill by a Vatican representative, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt testified before a House subcommittee on the ‘flagrant and widespread persecution’ of Christians in the Middle East. ‘No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab,’ Chullikatt said.
Chullikatt was among seven speakers discussing the escalation of threats to Christians. Specifically, testimony focused on underreported assaults, the plight of impacted Christian communities and the need to protect religious freedoms and civil rights.
‘Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith,’ Chullikatt said.”

Such persecution is not a surprise or unexpected. Considering that as Christian we are told to expect persecution, hearing about it in a country that tends to hate Christians brings no wonder that they are facing oppression, torture and even death every day for their testimony of Christ.
The Fox report goes on to say,

“In Syria alone, there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants, as well as shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam, according to various news reports from the region.
One of the most graphic illustrations of ongoing brutality confronting Arab Christians is the practice of bombings of Christian houses, churches and other places of worship on Christmas Eve, Chullikatt said.”

In my blog from August 19, 2013, “Troubles in Egypt“, I related a story about the challenges the Christian church in Egypt was facing. While that under-reported persecution still goes on, the church is seeing some hope in their situation as the country is undergoing a change of leadership that I pray will be for the betterment of the church. Despite the horrific stories we do hear and read of the Middle East, my friends at SAT-7* shared dual stories of tragedy and hope in their newsletter of January, 2014. Their title line was, “Iraq is not lost. Miracles are happening.”
The first part of the story highlighted a story from Baghdad about Pastor Michael (name changed) who is a leading minister in one of hundreds of churches in Baghdad. On a Sunday morning Pastor Michael was driving the church bus through the streets of Baghdad to drop off the church members who needed transportation to and from services. He had just dropped the last of his passengers when a terrorist drove along the side of the bus and detonated a bomb that killed the terrorist, destroyed his car…and the bus.
But God clearly has other plans for Pastor Michael. When the smoke cleared, Pastor Michael sat in his bus seat surrounded by twisted metal, fire and a completely totaled bus…alive and only with a few minor cuts. Pastor Michael said, “I couldn’t believe it. The bus was in shambles, totally destroyed and burning. But I was okay. It was clearly a miracle. God must have something more for me to do.”
The second part of the SAT-7 newsletter relates the opposite of such terror with words of hope. They reported about one of their producers, Chris (not his real name), who was in Baghdad interviewing Christian pastors and believers. Pastor Michael was one of his interviews. Chris reported that all the pastors he spoke with were enthusiastic about SAT-7 and admitted that the channel was watched by many Christians as well as non-Christians in the region. Chris related that many of his interviewees were joyful and even willing to be identified as Christian on television in Iraq. The newsletter went on to relate one experience of Chris and his crew that was a tense moment on the streets of Baghdad.

“They were driving through a restricted area when they were stopped by the police. On learning they were a television crew, officers ordered them to halt their work. When the crew informed the police that they were representing churches and were with SAT-7, the officers’ attitudes changed. They brought over their commanding officer, who then spoke well of SAT-7, saying that the police greatly respected the channel and the Christians. Chris asked if they could pray for the officers. The police agreed. The crew laid hands on them and asked for God’s protection. They then gave the officers booklets about Christ and wished them well. It surely made a great impression.”

It appears that the police might have had a bit of distrust for reporters and news people but upon learning that this crew was part of SAT-7, the police not only became friendly but also opened up their hearts to receive prayer and hear about Christ. God is at work in the Middle East. Perhaps we won’t ever read about His work from the secular news, but the stories of Michael and Chris insures us that the truth is going out in Iraq. Despite the ever prevalent stories of political doom and gloom from the secular press, the church in the Middle East survives. The SAT-7 newsletter included a few more words of hope…

“Everywhere Chris went, nearly every person they spoke with knew about SAT-7, saying it was respected, that they watched to receive hope for tomorrow, that Christians were truly different. They saw a number of restaurants and shops where televisions were continually tuned to SAT-7!”

Although it is hard to get exact determination of the number of Christians in the Middle East, recent data suggests that the overall Christian population is in decline. The pastor of an Anglican church in Baghdad, Rev. Andrew White, stated that Iraq’s Christian population had shrunk from 1.5 million to just 200,000 within the last decade. He indicated this trend could be witnessed across the Middle East. That being said, eye-witness accounts know that there is resurgence in new Christian believers, although very much a slow process. Dr. David Baer, president of Overseas Council illustrated it as a faucet drip: “The flow of new converts has gone from none to an occasional drip..…drip…..drip; to a more frequent drip, drip, drip; to a slow but steady sliver of a stream.” I believe the church is not only surviving but is seeing a quiet and slow restoration. God is at work in the Middle East!
With the efforts of SAT-7 to broadcast the truth of the Gospel throughout the Middle East, a steady advance of the Christian church is seen. With the efforts of Overseas Council the need of Christian education and maturity of believers is being addressed. Together, SAT-7, Overseas Council and MEATE (Middle East Association for Theological Education) are having a tremendous bearing on the church throughout the Middle East with a partnership called TEACH. They use multimedia technology to create highly accessible Christian education that will encourage and equip Christians in the region, where access to solid theological resources in the local context is most times very limited and often inaccessible. The momentum is right and the time is right for this program to impact the lives of those new to the faith.
TEACH includes broadcast programs that can be viewed from the privacy of the individual’s home, in addition to courses available online in which believers can earn a certificate or degree. The online courses are monitored by mentors who administer tests and lead group discussions. The curriculum, written in Arabic by Arab scholars for an Arab audience, features 32 courses arranged in five categories: Christian Life, Leadership and Ministry Skills, Society, Bible and Church.
For more information and a video about TEACH click HERE. If you want to be a part of making a difference in the Middle East and be part of changing stories of tragedy to stories of hope, you can help support the Middle East Christian church by giving a gift to give the Christians there the knowledge they need to take the Middle East church into the next generation.

*A NOTE ABOUT SAT-7 (From their website): Since the first program aired in 1996, SAT-7 broadcasts have brought quality Christian television programming directly into millions of homes throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). SAT-7 airs 5 channels in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish languages to a known audience of over 15 million viewers! In a region characterized by high illiteracy rates, media censorship, and limited incomes, anyone with a satellite dish can turn on SAT-7 and hear the Word of God in his or her language.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Mission, World Christianity

 

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TROUBLES IN EGYPT

I KNOW I STILL OWE SOME SEGMENTS FROM MY CUBA TRIP LAST JANUARY!  I have been traveling a bit and time has been flying by and I have simply not been able to sit and write.  But this post is so important for the Christians in Egypt that I knew I simply needed to sit down and make myself get it out.

TROUBLES IN EGYPT

If you have been watching the news about Egypt you know that the political atmosphere tImagehere is explosive…literally.  In the midst of the Muslim upheaval, the Christian church is caught in the crossfire.  I have received numerous emails and updates from people I know there and all are in great need for our prayers. There have been more than 50 Christian (Coptic) churches burned and many Christians attacked. The stark realization of the violence was described by Ravi Zacharias in his RZIM August newsletter:

“The prolonged nationwide disruption and brutality of those supposedly just staging a “sit-in” are horrific. How can anyone so destroy their own country and kill their own people and murder minorities and still claim to be for the democratic process? The tragedy is beyond description.”

Perhaps for a more complete understanding of the situation, reading from people on the ground in Egypt will help us in the U.S. to understand more than what we will read or hear from our American media.

FROM A PASTOR:Image

The situation now in Egypt is not good; there is more violence and destruction than the news is covering. Most of the violence is close to where my family and I live, but thankfully we have all been out of Cairo. Please be praying for Egypt and especially the churches and Christian buildings that have been torched. Many of our church leaders’ homes and churches are in danger. We really need all of your prayers now. However, we trust in God and we believe He will do miraculous things in Egypt. The hostilities and confrontations have been going on in Egypt for months now and we pray that there is a swift and peaceful end to them.

FROM SAT-7*:

In the past 6 weeks the Muslim Brotherhood has occupied a number of public spaces, to demonstrate for the reinstatement of the former President (currently being held by the army and facing charges related to abuse of power, including substantial material and intelligence support to Hamas). Unlike the peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square by demonstrators in January 2011, and again at the end of June 2013, these Muslim Brotherhood occupations were dominated by calls for violence against the army, the police, the liberals and, specifically, the Coptic Christians in Egypt – all resulting in the violence witnessed on August 14th, when police stations, hospitals, private and public property were destroyed. Many Christian churches (at least 40 so far), homes and businesses were also attacked, as well as a monastery, three religious societies, three key bookshops belonging to the Bible Society in Egypt, three Christian schools and an orphanage.

For the complete commentary from SAT-7 written by Dr. Terence Ascott, CEO and Founder, SAT-7 International, go to https://www.sat7usa.org/understanding-the-present-situation-in-egypt?srctid=1&erid=144131&trid=f5168b62-25d9-4187-93eb-9b8e74d6ffed. (Photos from SAT-7)

MY CONCERN IS THE CHURCH

I know that the troubles in Egypt seem far away and you may think that they have nothing to do with us here in the U.S.  Well on a political front, we (the U.S.) are intertwined with Egypt in many ways and our relationship with this country that is a mighty force in the ME is in jeopardy.  If Egypt were to collapse or turn totally radical Muslim, the U.S. would certainly be impacted if the Suez Canal were to be closed or the oil pipelines were shut down. I don’t even pretend to know all the intricacies of that relationship but Egypt is an important ally in the ME who we need as a friend and not as an enemy. Abraham Lincoln stated, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” 

But the reason for our interest in Egypt needs to go way beyond political concerns.  As Christian, we are called to be supporters, encouragers and prayer partners for our fellow Christians around the world. Christians are dying friends, and they are suffering at the hands of those that oppose Christ and the Gospel. When one of us suffers, all of us should feel the suffering. When a Christian suffers for Christ, Christ suffers. Romans 15:1-7 says to us:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So with these verses in mind, may I ask that you remember our brothers and sisters in Egypt in your prayers?  As Christians, we are one body under our Lord, whether it is in America or the Middle East or in a remote part of the globe.  When we pray for our fellow Christians, we are honoring Christ.

…`I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

PLEASE PRAY THAT:

  • The current violence in Egypt (and all of the MENA region) will end soon.
  • The effective rule of law and order will be re-established for the benefit of all citizens, Christian and Muslin alike.
  • There will be effective protection of the Christians, Christian churches and other property against attacks by extremists.
  • Egypt will be governed for the benefit of all its citizens, with people of different persuasions able to live alongside one another peaceably.
  • Egyptian Christians will have opportunity to grow in an increasingly prominent and effective role in addressing the needs of all Egyptians and helping to bring healing and reconciliation in the country.

 *A NOTE ABOUT SAT-7 (From their website):  Since the first program aired in 1996, SAT-7 broadcasts have brought quality Christian television programming directly into millions of homes throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). SAT-7 airs 5 channels in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish languages to a known audience of over 15 million viewers!  In a region characterized by high illiteracy rates, media censorship, and limited incomes, anyone with a satellite dish can turn on SAT-7 and hear the Word of God in his or her language.

Overseas Council is partnering with SAT-7 in a new initiative to bring Theological Education
to remote parts of the Middle East and North Africa through satellite transmission and long-distance mentoring.
For more information about this partnership go to http://overseas.org/our-work/programs/teach/.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in World Christianity

 

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