Archive for November, 2013

Agus (68) and Tina[1] (42) started a ministry among people of another faith after meeting a Christian in East Java who had the same heart for such a ministry. The couple started to share the Good News to their neighbours and families, and opened their house for secret believers to meet every Thursday night.

The couple decided to visit HIV patients in a public hospital in Malang, East Java every day. Agus and Tina gave them food and some medicine. HIV patients of that faith in Indonesia were often excluded from their families and communities. However, the couple realized that they needed to grow the business to support their ministry.

They could not count on the traditional and mainline churches. Many of them were hesitant to support such ministries out of fear.

“We have a salted egg business and a small stall,” explained Tina. “But the ministry started to grow and we needed more money to support and reach out to more patients. Our business was not even enough to support our daily needs.”

In 2012, Agus and Tina were invited to come to a gathering of Christian workers like them in East Java that Open Doors (OD) organized. There, they learned about OD’s livelihood project that supports field workers who reach out to people of another faith. They decided to submit a proposal for a one year loan. It was approved.

For a year, the couple proved their commitment to pay off their loan. Meanwhile, their ministry grew bigger. They continued providing food and medicines to HIV patients, and asked for a local Bible School to send some of its students to help them in their ministry.

Many of the patients accepted Isa (Jesus). One family decided to accept Isa and be baptized in His name after witnessing how the couple’s ministry cared for their son who was a HIV patient.

“Thank you Open Doors,” said Agus. “We can help more patients and share the Good News to more HIV patients. The loan increased our profits, and we are able to buy more food and medicines. We can reach out to more people in our neighborhood. Once again, we thank the Lord for His help through Open Doors ministry.”

Since 2009, Open Doors ministry has helped as many as 17 secret believers and Christian workers through the livelihood loan project. Through the loans, independent Christian workers, like Agus and Tina, can continue their ministry to people of another faith without having to worry about resources. More importantly, they are encouraged to reach more people for Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points:

  1. Agus uses a motorcycle to distribute the eggs to his customers, which has caused muscle pains for him these past few months. Please pray for the Lord to heal him.
  2. Praise God for an additional eight new believers through the couple’s ministry this year. Pray for them to be discipled in the faith.
  3. Pray for safety and blessing to be with Agus and Tina and other Christian workers like them in East Java

[1] Names are changed for security reason.

Bhutan: A Workman Approved by God

Posted: November 21, 2013 in Articles

Peter* leads three house fellowships in three different districts in Bhutan, but he’s not an ordained pastor. He travels to villages to meet believers, pray for them, and encourage them to remain in Jesus. In a conversation with Open Doors, the 45-year-old church worker shares his story and the challenges of ministering to minority believers in this predominantly Buddhist country.

Open Doors: How many believers are there in a typical house fellowship?

Peter:   Most of the time, a house fellowship has 15-20 believers. A few would have 30.

Open DoorsAnd your house fellowship has how many members?

Peter:   40-50.

Open DoorsYou come from a totally different faith. When you met Christ, did you experience problems because of your faith? Can you please share this story?

Peter:  My boss summoned me one time, and asked me why I converted. He says that my religion (Christianity) is “foreigner’s religion.” So, I share with him how the Lord Jesus heals me from my heart condition. Then, my boss gets mad at me. He forces me to stand for a long time in his office, thinking that I would get tired soon and deny Jesus. But when he sees that I am not giving in, he lets me go and warns me not to hold fellowships in the workplace. “Don’t create problems!” he tells me.

Open DoorsWhen he says ‘Don’t create problems,’ what does he mean?

Peter:   Don’t convert people. You see, I have other people working under me. My boss is afraid that I might start converting those people and create problems. He’s worried. But I don’t force people to come to Christ. If they are interested, they can come to the house fellowship. They can hear the good news. They can pray, but I cannot force them. There are about three families in my office now who are Christians. I can’t be the one ministering to them; I send other pastors and leaders to help them grow in the faith.

Open DoorsHow do you manage your time, juggling between a fulltime job and a ministry of three house fellowships?

Peter:   Very tough… in some places, it is very risky to visit the believers, because the non-believers in their communities are hostile to Christians. They don’t like us teaching there. They don’t allow us to enter. So do my visits in the evening, and tell the local leaders that I am there to see some friends. One time, when I was holding a meeting in one place, the villagers heard about it. They came and threw stones at the house.

Open Doors: The government now follows a democratic parliamentary system. Has this improved the situation of Christians in Bhutan?

Peter:  If we start to preaching, baptizing, and congregate, the major religions will be very aware of this. In the past, we’ve been doing these things secretly. Now, there is a little freedom, but we can be exposed. The public will know. If the public reports us to the government, there may be problems. So, we are still careful. In Bhutan, I feel that many pastors and believers are doing things based on emotions and not on biblical teachings. The government does not like this, so the believers need biblical discipleship.

Open DoorsDo you think the church is ready for full democracy?

Peter:   It will take a long time. Right now it’s not ready.

Open DoorsSo what’s the next step for the church in Bhutan?

Peter:   The next step should be to equip the believers biblically. What we are trying to do is to unite the leaders and have some training preparation. We also need to improve our communication, so that we can respond to the persecutions happening in different areas.

Open Doors:  If all Christian leaders in Bhutan are gathered in one place, what should be the first agenda?

Peter:  I feel that it should be how to make the believers strong in their faith, and at the same time, how to deal with the government, with the public… some type of awareness program… what to do when the public complains to the government about us.

Open DoorsWhat’s the best teaching/topic do you think leaders need to hear?

Peter:   In Bhutan, what I feel we need to learn is the simplicity of the Church. It is very important in Bhutan. We have house fellowships, and we don’t have a registered church… More importantly, they need to know the role and function of a church.

Pray for:

  1. Churches in Bhutan to be united in Christ.
  2. God’s protection and wisdom to with Peter and other itinerant house fellowship leaders like him in Bhutan.
  3. God to open the way for believers in Bhutan to understand the simplicity, roles, and function of God’s church.

*Pseudonym used to protect the believer.  

Threatened, Mocked, and Chased Out

Posted: November 21, 2013 in Articles

A Christian Worker in Myanmar Stays in Spite

After years of service as a nurse in the government military, Kyaw Maing*, together with his family, settles down in a remote village in North Myanmar. They are the only Christians in the community.

“It’s a very strong religious community,” says Kyaw Maing. “People here do not accept those from other tribes and other religions. They will not accept me, because I am a Christian.”

Kyaw Maing sets up a pharmacy and secures a license for it. Every day, people come to him and he never misses an opportunity to pray for the sick and they get well. After one month, Kyaw Maing is already sharing his faith with his clients, and for that, Kyaw Maing gets into trouble with his neighbours.

“They started a signature campaign against me,” he says. “They demand that I leave the village and they send their petition to the local authorities. The village chief immediately comes to me with an ultimatum: I leave the village that night, or he’ll burn my house.”

The village chief has a reputation for pressuring, harassing, and expelling Christians and closing down churches for the last 20 years—and he is proud of it. After uttering a quick prayer, Kyaw Maing faces the village chief and makes his choice.

“I am here because I want to serve the people,” Kyaw Maing says to the village chief. “I want to help in making them healthy and offer God’s eternal life to them, so I am staying.”

“If you want to live long, move out of the village,” the village chief says. “I cannot live with a Christian anywhere. You have three hours to make up your mind.”

While Kyaw Maing continues his pharmacy and ministry to those who are sick in body and spirit, caricatures of him spring up everywhere in the village. The images come with a message: “Get out quickly!” But the former nurse pays them no heed.

The spirit mediums are the next to oppose Kyaw Maing. In Myanmar’s villages, people who seek physical healing or blessing in life offer food, animals, or money to spirit mediums. When Kyaw Maing’s prayers begin to heal the villagers, the spirit mediums try to chase Kyaw Maing out of the community. Still, he stays and eludes such attempts.

It has been a little over three years since Kyaw Maing relocated to this village. His pharmacy is still open and he still prays for clients, in spite of pressure and opposition from neighbours, monks, and village authorities.

To strengthen Christian workers in Myanmar, like Kyaw Maing, Open Doors hold persecution-preparedness seminars. One was held in the North and Kyaw Maing attended. “My faith is renewed and I am encouraged to continue in the midst of the ‘storm’ of persecution. Please remember me in your prayer always.”

*Actual names and other details are withheld for Kyaw Maing’s protection.

Please pray for:

  1. God’s peace and protection to be with Kyaw Maing and his family.
  2. God’s salvation to be revealed to those who persecute Kyaw Maing.
  3. God to use Open Doors to strengthen more Christian workers in Myanmar.

French Priest kidnapped in N. Cameroon

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Articles

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have kidnapped a French priest in northern Cameroon close to the border of Nigeria. Georges Vandenbeusch was seized in the early hours of Thursday near Koza, about 30km (19 miles) from the border. 

A nun, who works with Fr Vandenbeusch at the compound in Nguetchewe told media that around 15 gunmen barged into the compound. They spoke English and arrived on foot.

Monseigneur Gerard Daucourt, the Paris-based bishop responsible for Fr Vandenbeusch, said the priest’s suitcase was found on the road to Nigeria with only a chequebook in it.  A Cameroon government spokesman, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, fears that Fr. Vandenbeusch has already been taken to Nigeria.

According to media, the 42-year-old “chose to remain in his parish to carry out his work,” despite earlier warnings from France to citizens about the dangers in the area.

French President Francois Hollande said “everything will be done” to secure his release.

Earlier this year, seven members of a French family were abducted by extremist militants near Cameroon’s northern Waza National Par. They were taken across the border into Nigeria and held hostage for two months. BBC says a confidential Nigerian document indicates that millions were paid in ransom before the Moulin-Fournier family was released. France and Cameroon denied the claims. 

Please pray for God’s grace to be upon Fr. Vandenbeusch as he faces his captivity. Please pray that he will be released soon. Also pray that he will be treated humanely and that he will enjoy good health and a strengthened spirit despite his circumstances.

Daily Life in Damascus

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Articles

Hanna* is a Christian woman living in Damascus with her husband. She and her husband have two young daughters. Hanna works in a school. Hanna tells us what daily life is like in Damascus.

The situation keeps getting worse and the war is coming closer and closer. It has been a terrible week for the schools in the Christian area I live in. This Monday it was around noon when my husband and I went out from the school to go home. We heard more mortars than usual. When we were walking the streets we saw a crowd approaching. When it came closer we saw it was a crowd of running and crying fathers and mothers on their way to the school of their children. I learned that a mortar had fell on one of the classrooms of that Christian school. We started running to our home because we didn’t feel safe.

Yesterday I had to go to school again, but the sound of mortars were near and we heard of more attacks on schools in our area. Parents were calling us in panic to make sure that their children were ok. Then I decided to take all the children to the church. There the whole school started praying. The children like to sing a special song we have that asks for protection over Syria. So we sang it. They all got on their knees and some started crying. I saw that the song made them feel more peaceful, less anxious. In the evening, one of the mothers of the children called me. She is not very religious herself, but seeing her children pray made a big impression on her. She told me that her children didn’t want to stop praying and that there was something very special, very peaceful about them. She saw that praying changed her children.

Today was another horrible day. Many schools got attacked and children died. Our school wasn’t attacked, but we didn’t have a normal day: we just prayed together instead of having lessons. A former pupil that now goes to another school because she’s older came to tell the children about what happened at her school. A mortar fell down in her classroom, but it didn’t explode, ‘it’s because of your prayers’, she said. After we prayed together, we sent the children back home and told them to stay home for a few days, because it’s too dangerous to go to school now. We don’t know what the future will be.

The reality is really hard, but we also feel blessed because God is protecting us and giving us what we need. The people that are praying with me are on my mind all the time. When I feel weak, God shows me that I don’t have to carry this burden on my own, but that I share it with the people around the world who are praying with me. I am not alone. So please, keep praying, we need your prayers so desperately.

*For security reasons we don’t use her real name.

 

Pray for Syria

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Articles

Prayerpoints from Hanna

Please pray for a lady who has lost her husband and four kids, one of which was only a baby, in an attack. She was the only survivor.

Please pray for the families of the six children aged 7 to 10 who were killed this week in an attack on their school bus in Damascus.

Pray for Christian leaders who are under a lot of pressure while serving their terrified congregation. Pray for wisdom and strength.

Pray for the believers in Damascus who are facing violence every day. Pray for peace and strength to stay.

General prayer points

Please thank God for all the Syrians who received a youth leaders training and are putting their knowledge to practice in their churches.

Please thank God for the cooperation between the different Christian denominations in Syria.

Please thank and pray for all the people that found Christ in the midst of the Syrian crisis.

Gamal,* the father, was waiting outside the delivery room at the small town hospital, together with his three daughters and other family members. He and his relatives had all brought Nadia,* the mother in labour, all the way from their village to the hospital to give birth to the fourth baby in the family. No one knew the gender of the soon-to-arrive baby. In Egyptian culture, it’s bad luck to know the baby’s gender before the delivery. Fingers were crossed with the utmost hope that the baby may turn out to be a boy!

“It just can’t be another girl,” Gamal whispered to himself, frightened by the thought that it may be his fourth daughter. Three pregnancies so far and his wife had failed to give him the long awaited baby boy. In his culture, women are the ones blamed for giving birth to girls.

“Who will be the man of the family after I die, and who will carry the burden of the girls and their mother when I grow old,” Gamal wondered. Tension could be felt in the room.

While he was engrossed in his thoughts, the nurse came out of the delivery room with a sad look on her face, carrying the newborn baby wrapped in a small blanket. She walked with hesitant steps towards the father, handing him his new baby. “It’s a girl, I’m sorry,” she said with a low and regretful voice. Shock spread across his face and tears dripped down from his eyes, as the  angry and disappointed father refused to take the newborn baby, Mariam in his arms. Waving the nurse away, Gamal fled from the scene, shattered by a complete sense of loss.

The new baby’s grandmother and aunts burst into tears at the sad news as well. So this beautiful new baby girl received no proper, joyful welcome into this world from either her father or her community on her very first birthday.

The true story of this Christian baby girl’s birth is multiplied many times daily all over Egypt. And it is just the start of the life journey of most of Egypt’s Christian women who live in a strict, religious society of another faith. It will be a tough journey, full of challenges and sacrifices, with very little recognition. Whether Miriam is born to a poor family in the rural areas, a middle-income family in a big town, or in a central city, her image as a woman, not a man, makes all the difference in how she is viewed. And just because she is a Christian woman, she is left even less space to fully or even partially enjoy any freedom, discover herself, or use her talents and the personal gifts God has given her. The majority of Christian women in Egypt end up living their entire lives imprisoned behind cultural, social, and religious bars in a male-dominated society.

Move onto the next stage in Miriam’s life, depicted in the GIRLHOOD of thousands of other Egyptian girls. 

Eight-year-old Mariam wakes up early in the morning to start a new day–a day like all the other days, full of never-ending demands, house work and duties. The four girls and their sick mother had a lot to do throughout each day, before their hard-working father comes back home from work. Mariam and her sisters had to help their mother prepare the meals for the family, clean the house, look after the two cows, and feed the ducks and chickens.

Her treat for the day was to take the washed clothes and climb the stairs to the roof of the house to hang them to dry in sunshine. The escape from the in-house heat and work load was her favorite activity of the day, as she could get some fresh air and watch the outside world. She used to watch some of the boys from the village as they were returning from the village school carrying their backpacks. How

Image

A young girl watching the street from her room window

she wished to go to school and obtain education like some of her relatives in the city! However, her parents wouldn’t send her to school because they argued that it would be safer for her and her sisters to stay home.

Gamal’s nephews and nieces lived nearby, so Mariam could clearly see the distinguished treatment that boys enjoyed, which was not granted for girls. Boys work with their fathers in the field, so they get to go out every day, and they even get to play football together with other boys of the village in the evening when the traffic is almost non-existent. Boys work with their fathers and generate income for their families, so they are always seen as much more important than girls. She always thought of herself as just a small girl, of no value, someone who should be kept home and eventually, married at a very young age.

On Sunday, her mother used to take Mariam and her sisters to church. The father hardly joined them as he was always busy with work. That was the only outing for the family, and Mariam had always enjoyed the Sunday school class–the only place she could raise her voice and sing loudly!

And then all too quickly, Mariam was deemed ready to enter her next stage of life, MARRIAGE.

When Mariam was about 14 years old, her parents and uncles began talking about their plans for her to marry her cousin. It’s a cultural custom in their village that the girl should marry her cousin, so that she may not be given to a stranger outside the family. For Mariam, the talk about marriage was so interesting, but scary at the same time!

By that time, her close neighbour, Fatima,* who was almost the same age as Mariam, had already been married for a year. Fatima told her some bits and pieces about her experience with marriage, about her intimate relations with her husband, and then her early pregnancy and the arrival of her little baby, Mohamed.* Mariam had mixed feelings about this unknown step she was about to be pushed to take in her life. She was quite confused about what to expect. For her, the entire issue seemed like someone reaching their hands into a beehive to get some honey! “After all, new life in my husband’s house may not be as hard as it is in my family’s home,” she told herself, not knowing the new set of challenges she was about to take on as an immature teenage wife and mother!

The wedding day arrived, and the young bride was sent home with her husband.

The party was over, the joyful noise ended, and all the wedding guests went home.  At age 14, Mariam had just entered a new world, unprepared to cope with the new life ahead of her—a life full of challenges!

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This is a small poor family house in Assiut in Upper Egypt

            In quick succession, Mariam found herself caught up in an even more demanding stage in her life, MOTHERHOOD.

In her early twenties, Mariam was already an always-busy and exhausted mother of four children and a wife of a demanding, hard-working husband. She thought by getting married in her early teenage years, she would escape the tight, hard-work, no-fun life of her parents’ house for a possibly more tolerant and independent life. However, as soon as she got married, she found herself inside a beehive with no honey inside!

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Women with children sitting in front of an open door

Life left no space for the young mother to do anything she loved to do or anything for her own self. She was not even sure what she loved to do! She lost track of any possible activities of interest she wished to try, any possibility to discover herself, or any gifts and talents that God had implanted in her. Sometimes Mariam felt that there was not even enough air for her to breathe!

She couldn’t ignore the despising glares she received from men and women who belong to a different religion in her neighbourhood, every time she went to the village market or to the small grocery shop located at the end of the street. Because of many controversial issues of the Christian faith which the society does not understand or accept, Mariam knew she was considered an infidel by her neighbours. Though modestly dressed, she was still clearly identified as a Christian because she was not veiled like the other women in the village. Some of her neighbours treated her nicely, yet she knew, with no doubt, that to them she was just a Christian infidel woman!

“Why was life so stingy with me?” She sadly asked herself this question a hundred times.

On one evening, in a rare peaceful moment when the kids were in bed and her husband had joined his friends at the coffee shop to watch a football match, Mariam sat down at the door of her small two bedroom house and thought back on all the years of her hard life. “What have I done with my life so far, and who am I?” she wondered. A list of disappointing answers jumped into her weary mind:

  1. She didn’t live her childhood…she hardly ever played like other children!
  2. She hadn’t been to school…she can’t read or write! She can’t even read the Bible on her own!
  3. She had never felt loved and appreciated by anybody–not by her parents, her brother, or even her husband, who thought of her almost as a piece of furniture in the house!
  4. Although only in her early 20s, she felt as if she was in her late 50s! Life had taken much from her and hardly given her anything!

Mariam’s life journey is almost a carbon copy of the life journeys of millions of Christian Egyptian women. From the day she was born, a female is considered a weak, incapable and incomplete creature who can’t do many things, who should not speak out her thoughts, who must only obey the men, and whose decisions and judgment on life issues can’t be trusted. This belittling view of women has sadly become the norm, imposing many limits and controls over their behaviour and practices every day of their lives.

Only one spot of light

There is one bright side of Mariam’s life, however, found in her little village Orthodox Church, located a walking distance from her home. This is where she is discovering that she can find a peace of heart and mind. It is only in the church services on Sunday mornings that she is finding refuge from her tough life. It is then that she can sing songs to Jesus and cry out her misery and despair to Him, the only one who listens to her. It is at church that she receives a rare sense of relief. Church has become the only spot of light in her hard life.

Women like Mariam are being reached by the women empowerment ministry supported by OD through Egypt’s local churches. This ministry provides unique opportunities to become members of a prayer group with other women. In these groups, women are taught about the love of God, and they can hear for the first time in their troubled lives that they are valuable and unique people created by God– whole people with many special gifts, talents and abilities. They also learn to gain their self-image from God’s view, not from the people of their communities. Through the genuine love and servant’s heart of a small group of committed leaders from the women’s ministry, women’s lives are changed, and their love for God grows.

*All names are pseudonyms, although based on real people and common incidents in Egypt.