Archive for July, 2013

Somali and international leaders condemned the July 27 suicide attack at a compound housing Turkish embassy staff in the Hodan district of Mogadishu that killed a Turkish guard and a Somali bystander and wounded many. Somali rebel group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in which a car laden with explosives crashed into the gates of the Turkish residence. Three al Shabaab militants, including the car bomber, were also killed.

Just prior to the attack al-Shabaab promised in a series of Twitter messages to step up what they called their “[Fasting Season] Offensive” in the second half of the religion’s months of fasting that ends around August 7.

“The fasting season is a month of sacrifice. It’s time for observing the most righteous deeds & offering gratitude to ‘god’ for His blessings,” one message said. “And what better way to observe the fasting season and offer gratitude to “god” than striking the necks of the invaders and destroying their might!”

The group say in the first half of the fast its fighters carried out over 100 attacks mostly in and around the capital Mogadishu. These allegedly included 57 explosions and grenade attacks, 41 direct confrontations and ambushes, nine targeted assassinations and a suicide attack against an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) convoy in Mogadishu on July 12 in which they claim to have wounded American intelligence officials.

Majid Ahmed, reporter for the United States Africa Command Sabahi website, doubted that the actual number was as high as the group had claimed, speculating that the group wanted to appear more united than they really are.

Somalia’s federal government was installed in 2012 with the support of the international community after decades of anarchy. However, the government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been struggling to wrestle full control out of the hands of al Shabaab who continues to hold pockets of regions mainly in the South. The President has reiterated its call for al Shabaab fighters to cease fighting and accept the amnesty the government has offered.

Somali religious figures, community leaders and citizens have condemned al Shabaab’s campaign of violence against fellow extremists during the fasting month.

Somalia ranked 5th on Open Doors 2013 World Watch List and counted among the countries where Christians face extreme persecution.

“Please remember to pray for the handful of secret Christians in the Somalia. Although al Shabaab threatens the society in general, these secret Christians are at particular risk. During the fasting month, they face additional pressures not only from al Shabaab but from the society in general as zealous radicals spy on neighbours to see what level of participation they have to the fast. Being suspected of leaving the faith has dire consequences. It is our prayer that in the midst of these challenges, God will be at work in the lives of Somali people and that many will come to Him in faith. We pray that God will establish in Somalia a strong and vibrant testimony for Himself,” explained an Open Doors worker.

“The village where we are going is heavily monitored,” goes literacy coordinator, Pastor Sang*, who is taking a handful of Open Doors workers the next day to see a literacy class in one undisclosed province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. “So, we can’t stay long. We need to leave after, maybe 15 minutes.”

Image

Vietnamese believers dub this province as the “most red” of all. That’s because persecution of Christians is said to be heaviest and most prevalent here. Almost a day is spent driving to this province, if travelers take off from Ho Chi Minh City. From a certain downtown in the ‘red province,’ it takes two or three more hours to reach the village… plenty of time to pray and ask for the Lord’s protection. 

At 7:00 a.m. the next day, Pastor Sang enters the lodge where his visitors stay. A tall, bulky, square-faced Vietnamese man wearing polo and trousers is with him. After quick exchanges of Xin Ciao, or, “hello” in Vietnamese, the group jumps into the van, where, this time, the passengers surrender each other’s names.

 “There’s no need to worry about security now,” says the square-faced Vietnamese man, Huong*, who, as Open Doors learns later, is an area pastor, a leader of several house churches in the red province. He works with Pastor Sang in bringing the literacy program in the red province. “When we shook hands at the hotel, the police already knew something was up.”

To talk with Pastor Huong in the hotel or restaurant or park is out of the question. Imprisoned and driven out of his community because of his faith in Jesus Christ, Pastor Huong is a familiar face in police stations. The group decides to proceed with the conversation with Pastor Huong inside the van, en route to the village where a literacy class is ongoing. 

Pastor Huong spends two years in prison, with his house and belongings seized from him and his family by the local authorities.  “John 16 has helped me through those times,” he says, “Jesus encourages me to take heart, because he has overcome the world. Persecution still happens… I cry to God sometimes. I ask him to help and protect me. But persecution also helps me find out those who really want to serve God.”

“God has used persecution to awaken my heart for ministry,” he continues. “When the leader of the church is persecuted or imprisoned, the church members take on the responsibility of continuing the ministry. That’s why the churches here grow.”

Indeed, from just a family of believers—Pastor Huong’s family—he now looks after around 32 churches or almost 700 ethnic believers, a growth in a span of 21 years of restrictions, raids, and invitations to the police station. His ministry reaches out to three ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, Vietnam’s coffee district.

Just as Pastor Huong is about to share how he has become a Christian, Pastor Sang announces to the group that they have arrived. The literacy class is held in a small bamboo hut with thatched roof, the same place they also hold their Sunday worship.  Trees surround the hut, giving it a natural shade, as well as shield from prying eyes.

Image

Around 25 students, besides children, are crammed inside. With the visitors inside, the hut becomes more congested. The literacy learners are seated on the dirt floor, which is otherwise mud floor during the rainy season. 

“In my heart, I struggled to see my spiritual family in such a condition,” says Open Doors worker later on after the visit. “I repented for the many times I complained over the trivial discomforts I felt, more so, over those times when I felt lazy attending church services.”

The pastor of the house church, Dinh*, welcomes Open Doors. “They are eager to see you; that’s why many have come. They are very thankful for the literacy class.”

“As the church members learn to read and write,” Pastor Dinh continues, “they become hungrier for God’s Word. Their desire to serve Him has increased too. In fact, more of them are now sharing their faith to others and are helping me in the church ministry. The literacy has lifted some burden off my shoulders.”

Of the 700 believers under Pastor Huong’s care, he says that 240 are taking up literacy classes. “One of the learners is now a faithful church worker. He goes out and shares the Gospel and has brought many people to the Lord.”

“We accept villagers into the literacy class, even though they are not Christians,” Pastor Huong continues. “After they attend the class, they receive Jesus in their hearts. The local authorities know about the class actually. They don’t want it, but they cannot deny the good it has brought to the people, so they’re not saying or doing anything.”

Image“A lot of persecution goes on in this place,” adds Pastor Dinh. “We get invited to the police station many times. Personally, I am thankful because through persecution, I have become stronger, and I am closer to God.”

Pastor Dinh introduces one of the literacy learners present whose name is Loan*, a male in his 30s.

“I am joyful that I can read the Word of God. The village officials persecute me, but I know Jesus, and I am strong in Him… I will continue to follow God.”

“They invite us to the office often and keep us there for one day. I am not afraid during those times, because I have Jesus. In those situations, I just pray for protection, for God to keep me safe,” Loan adds.

Three more literacy learners stand up to share their stories and express their gratitude. After some 20 minutes, Pastor Sang signals to the visiting group that it is time to leave, as the police have picked up the trail.

 “Thank you,” Pastor Huong says. “The church is standing now because of the many prayers of God’s people in the world… I have many things to say, but I don’t know how to say them, nor do we have the time.”

 

PRAYER POINTS

  1. God’s protection and provision for pastors Sang, Huong, and Dinh.
  2. The believers, like Loan, in the ‘red province’ to remain in Jesus Christ in spite of heavy restrictions.
  3. The literacy classes to reach more believers from other ethnic groups in Vietnam. 

These are the reflections of Pastor Quan*, a literacy coordinator from South Vietnam. A Kinh shaman in his youth, Quan came to the Lord when Jesus healed him from a grave disease. He then realized that God alone is the source of healing, and has since dedicated his life in service to Him. Today, Quan pastors a house church and encourages literacy teachers in Vietnam’s ethnic communities. This is an account of his visits among the churches in the North with his companion, Pastor Lem*, in April 2013.

First Stop: A Church in a Rice Village

It is cold and foggy because of the rain, but I thank God that everything is going well. From the town centre, they take us 20 kilometres up slippery hills and down dale roads. Our destination is a quaint village situated in the rice terraces. It is where we find thirty literacy teachers waiting for us, happy that they would be trained to teach their neighbours how to read and write.

Our class starts with singing and prayer, and Pastor Lem shares the Word of God from Acts 9:36-43. “Go out and serve your community,” says the Bible, and in their faces I glimpse how God’s Word touches their hearts. They long to serve their community, but they don’t know where to start.

ImageRang Dong, or the Sunrise Guide, is a government issued teaching material for the Kinh language.

After lunch, I share the goals of this ministry to them, which are to teach people how to read and write in the Kihn language, to share Jesus, and to plant churches. We start training them using the Sunrise Guide, the material we use for the churches we visit. We ask them to practice the lessons by pair until all of them can teach the material confidently.

They become very excited when they master the material. They commit to teach their families at once, as well as the members of their church, who have now reached 300.

Lem and I are thankful that these individuals are quick learners. We praise God that He hides us in His peace and protection – that though the government prohibits Kinh pastors from entering this village, we are able to conduct the training without a disturbance.

Second Stop: A Church in a Mountain Valley

Image

Image

 

Eighteen kilometres from the rice farming village is a church situated in a valley. The rain is still pouring and it is difficult to travel, but I praise God for letting us be accompanied by people accustomed to navigating mountains in this kind of weather. This village is also heavily monitored, but God allows us in.

We arrive early in the morning, and are greeted by 26 eager, sun-tanned faces. We start the training immediately, worshipping and praying with all our hearts. I share John 15:16, which says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” I encourage them to go and be fruitful for Jesus, serving their community with His love.

We share the ministry goals, instruct them how to be patient when coaching students, and watch them practice using the material. By noon, all 26 teachers are able to articulate the lessons in the guide.

The people in this village are both poor and illiterate. They marry at the age of 15 or 16, and usually have many children. Please pray that this ministry will bear fruit in this community; that more and more ethnic believers can read and write, so they all mature spiritually and be fruitful leaders in their church.

Third Stop: A Church in a Forest

Image

We travel to the third church and Pastor Lem and I go through the usual activities – praying, studying the Word, practicing the Sunrise method, and sharing praises for what the Lord has done in our lives. We listen to many stories of transformation.

First is the story of Mrs. Chinh*, a retired schoolteacher. She opened a literacy class at her son’s home in 2011. Her first students were ten children of local officials, who, in three months, have learned how to read and write. The kids’ parents were pleased at their newly acquired skill, and one of the dads, a vice chairman in the village, brought chicken and corn to Mrs. Chinh in gratitude.

Word spread as to how these kids learned the Kihn language, and by the time the next class opened, 30 people in the village enrolled, including the village chief and a lady elder. Months later, the lady elder shares that she no longer asks her children to write reports for her. Many other village officials, chiefs, coastguards, and their spouses came to Mrs. Chinh to be taught. Now, the Gospel can be shared freely in their village, and the name of the Lord is glorified.

Another story is Han’s*, who signed up for a literacy class four months after becoming a Christian. In just a month, Han can already read the Bible. He shares what he reads to his wife and kids. He then teaches literacy to his family and eventually opens his home to others who want to learn. Han’s class then became a Bible study group, and a year later, grows into a local church.

On behalf of the literacy teachers and students North of Vietnam, we would like to give thanks to Open Doors and the sponsors for supporting us both spiritually and financially in this ministry for many years. We will continue to teach, share the gospel, and open new churches to expand the kingdom of God in our country.

Please pray for:

1.       Open Doors’ literacy program in Vietnam to reach its goal of helping at least 2,000 mostly tribal believers. In some classes, literacy teachers welcome non-believers who wish to learn.

2.       God’s protection to be with Pastor Quan as he carries out the literacy program in the far flung villages in the North and Central Vietnam.

3.       God’s grace and favour to be with the literacy teachers as they open classes in their respective villages.

*Real names and other details are withheld to protect believers featured in this article. Many of Open Doors’ literacy classes in Vietnam are underground.

Closer To Home

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Articles
Tags: , , , ,

After so many updates from nations where persecution is occurring in a more physical or violent manner, I do hope that we have not forgotten our very own homeland. In Singapore itself, there are converts who are facing persecution as well. Singapore doesn’t condone violence and therefore, it hasn’t escalated to that extent. However, ex-communication, verbal abuse, emotional blackmail, restriction to privileges are just some of the forms that persecution takes within Singapore.

We are slightly more than a week away from our homeland’s birthday. What better time than this to remember all who have suffered for His name’s sake!

Let us pray for those who are still facing persecution – 1st generation Christians especially – They are the ones who will spark a difference in the generations to come.

Let us rally and pray for those who have to keep their conversion a secret until an opportune time arises because of the potential consequences that may follow that exposure.

Let us pray for those whose weekly commute to the church becomes a weekly argument.

Let us arise and pray for our nation and her leaders – They are God’s anointed, appointed by Him, that they may also execute all that the Lord wills for this nation. 20110810.084516_myp_ndp

This is my personal dream – That one day, the churches of Singapore will lay down their differences, unite in love and pray. And not only that, to act against injustice, stand up for the truth and set a standard for the world. A standard of excellence and love. This is OUR HOME. This is OUR SINGAPORE. We complain about Singapore and the state it’s in because it matters to us, but complaining has NO eternal value. It stirs up strife and creates discontent. We pray because we know that the One who is greater is the only One who can lead us and help us to make a difference. Let the church arise!

I am going to be at East Coast Park during the National Day Parade. I’m gonna bring a guitar down and sing and worship the King of Kings. To enjoy the fireworks with Him and to pray for the nation. I’m not planning to rally people together to pray but if you can, wherever you are, pray for Singapore.

According to a statement on the official Eritrean Ministry of Information website 17,000 students of the 26th national service intake graduated on July 13. According to the announcement all these students had successfully completed eight months of academic studies and four months mandatory military training. These students will now proceed to Senior Secondary school to complete grade 12.

A group of 39 students including 11 female students of the same intake who also completed the training had been excluded from the graduation ceremony and have instead been placed under harsh military punishment at Sawa Military training centre. Sources told Open Doors that the arrest came as a result of the students’ “Christian beliefs and for their commitment to Christ.”

These youths are now enduring beating, forced hard labour and insufficient food and water. Sources said authorities are also threatening the students with long imprisonment and exclusion from university should they “fail to renounce Christ”.

Since the beginning of the year Christians belonging to groups outside of the government sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches have faced a widespread arrest campaign. More than 200 men and women of various ages have been arrested since the beginning of the year and are being detained without charges under very harsh circumstances. One 85 year old woman is being held in a shipping container and has contracted pneumonia. She is still being refused medical attention because she will not agree to camp authorities’ terms for receiving medicine.

Military training forms part of the Eritrean curriculum. But after completing school all Eritreans must also do national service.

“In 1995, the government issued the Proclamation of National Service (No. 82/1995) under which national service, which encompasses active national service and reserve military service, was declared mandatory for men and women between the ages of 18 and 50. Active national service is compulsory for all citizens between the ages of 18 to 40, followed by addition reserve duties. The initial national service period is 18 months long, generally consisting of six months’ military service followed by 12 months’ deployment in military or government service. However, this period is frequently extended indefinitely. Much of the adult population of Eritrea is currently engaged in mandatory national service; many of them have been conscripted for over ten years,” Amnesty International explained in their 2013 report on Eritrea.

Many of the Christians that have been imprisoned since the government closed all churches except the above three in 2002 have been arrested for religious activities while doing military service. In addition to the many Christians that have been imprisoned since 2002 Amnesty International estimates that thousands of Eritreans have also been arrested and detained since 1995 for attempting to escape conscription.

 

Prayer points:

  1. Pray for God’s sustaining grace for the young people to endure this pressure and remain faithful to Christ in the midst of their suffering.
  2. Especially Christians face difficult circumstances while doing national service. They are usually not allowed to bring a Bible or meet for worship. It is also often expected of those doing national service to perform tasks that go against Christians’ conscience. Pray that God would show grace to all who are facing these circumstances today.
  3. Please continue to pray that the Lord will bring about a change of heart in the Eritrean government and that they would allow for religious freedom.

What drives you? (2)

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Articles

In Ephesians 1:1, Paul introduces himself in this manner: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s Holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus”

He has identified a few key areas in life that we tend to either forget, ignore or mis-align. First, who are we? “Paul, an apostle”. Second, who do we do it for? “of Christ Jesus”. Third, “by the will of God”, our authority. Fourth, “to God’s Holy people in Ephesus”, our sphere/zone/target audience. 

Wherever we are, in whatever we do, we MUST NEVER forget who we are, who we are living life for, the authority that has been vested in us within the sphere he has given us. I’m not saying that we tag our identity to our work. An apostle is also a child of God, saved by grace through faith and this not by our own works, lest we should boast. What I’m saying is that we do not forget why we are alive! You do not wake up and just tell yourself that you are saved and that you are a child/friend of God! Yes, remind yourself as much as you can, YOU ARE A FRIEND OF GOD. However, there are many out there NOT saved, not wanting to be saved or facing death for His Name’s sake. What drives YOU? For Paul, he was thinking of the church and how it was doing even when he was receiving his lashes from the whip. He’s an apostle, the church is his responsibility, his mind and his heart totally devoted to the One who called him and his love is poured out for his sphere, the gentiles.

In fact, in Romans 12:3-8, Paul writes that “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you..” The grace that the Lord has given him granted him authority to admonish his target audience, his God-given “zone”; “…in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” – we all have it. Not just Paul. Different levels, different gifts, different spheres.  In verse 6, “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” – We all have different gifts like a body with different parts doing different things. So what’s YOUR part? 

 

 

A murdered Colombian widow’s teenage son commits to faith, peace and forgiveness.

One month after Christian widow Alicia Castilla was murdered by one of Colombia’s illegal armed groups, an Open Doors team visited her orphaned children in their aunt’s home, where they are now living temporarily.

“We’ve come to learn what your needs are,” they told 18-year-old Ramos Castilla and his two sisters Rosmy (9) and Jackeline (6), “and to tell you that Christians all over the world know your names and are praying for you,” the team explained.

“I give thanks from the bottom of my heart to know this,” Hernán told them, as he began to share the realities of resettling into a new life. They are now located far from their former Arauca home, where their mother was shot in front of them on January 7, 2013.

Explaining that he was looking for a job to help cover expenses, Hernán said that his little sisters were going through a particularly difficult time, with the trauma they have experienced being expressed in a variety of ways. The girls have fallen sick often, and no longer sleep well at night. And their behavior patterns have also changed.

Their uncle observed that when their mother was alive, the girls were very obedient. But now they sometimes refuse to go to school, and disobey their aunt and uncle.

The girls had begun receiving psychological counseling provided by a government office two years ago, after their lay evangelist father Nelson Ramos was murdered, also by guerrilla forces. During their last therapy session since their mother’s death, their uncle said, the children drew pictures of their parents’ coffins.

Hernán said one of his biggest concerns is for his little sisters, now that he sees himself as a Daddy for them.Image

Hernán had dreamed of studying environmental engineering, but his studies are on hold as he looks for work, perhaps in a supermarket. Through a government restitution program for victims of violence, he has applied for housing for himself and his siblings.

The three have recently been joined in their new city by their older brother, Wilmer, 22, who is not a Christian and wants to avenge his parents’ murders.

Hernán well understands his brother’s feelings. Following his father’s death in January 2011, he had made plans to join the army, learn how to shoot a gun, and kill those who killed his father.

But at an Open Doors encounter for children in the persecuted church who have lost one or both parents to violence, Hernán renounced his vendetta. Instead he was baptized and became deeply involved in church activities. Hernán is praying for his brother’s life to also be transformed through Christ.

“After my mother was murdered, I asked for a lot of strength from the Lord so I did not have revenge feelings. I know that revenge will not bring us anything good,” Hernán said. It is because of all the prayers for him, he said, that he stays at peace in his heart and keeps seeking God’s help to lead his family.

“Without this prayer support, probably we would be [following] the world’s ways, not God’s,” he said.

Hernán has already found a church home for himself and his sisters near their new community, some 10 kilometers away by bus. While his parents are now with the Lord, he says he’s found in God’s people the support he needs to move forward.

“Now I belong to God’s family!” he declared.

After praying with Hernán, Open Doors workers shared with him the first verses of Revelation 21, in which God promises to wipe every tear from the eyes of His children. Christians can trust that something good will result from something bad, they said.

“When I read this text, I can see the Lord reaffirming that we are going to receive a reward, and we must endure, although it is not easy to do,” Open Doors’ regional director for Latin America assured him.

“What the world offers ends,” Hernán agreed. “The world never will give us what God gives, and everyone should be aware that you have to call evil, evil. Also, if we suffer in the Lord’s ways, there is always a purpose.”

Prayer Points:

• For Hernan and his siblings to get sound legal advice to obtain a house through the Colombian government

• For Wilmer to receive Christ in his heart and renounce any desire to avenge his parents’ murders

• For little Rosmy and Jackeline’s emotional and spiritual healing

• For Hernán to receive financial support to take up his university studies