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missions

India

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Elisa Talmage

Elisa Talmage is heading to India.

Six days from now, I leave for my first ever trip to India. The South Asian nation has been on my heart for some time. When a massive earthquake struck India in 2001, the school I attended responded with a fundraiser called “India Fest”. It included Indian food, dancing, purses, bangles, henna and beautiful music. This was my first encounter, really, with Indian culture, and it had me captivated. The event was such a success that the school held annual “Culture Fest” celebrations thereafter, celebrating Indian culture, but also Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Senegalese and so on. Still, I was always drawn to the India table, vibrant with color, mirrors, silver, and intricate designs.

A number of years later, I began working for Mission Network News, where I learned really for the first time how impoverished and oppressed many were in the country that had caught my eye so long ago. I was not ignorant of India’s poverty before then, but I had never allowed myself to think on how much persecution her church faced. Upon this realization, I also came to terms with how many street children there were in India, unable to get an education or, many times, even a meal. My heart broke for India’s children, and I decided to sponsor a 10 year old girl through Gospel For Asia. As I dove even further into the findings of Indian society, I learned that the nation was also plagued by a terrifying trafficking issue. I unveiled the ugly truth that mothers had no option but to prostitute themselves, and their children followed; that some children were forced into begging on the street for money they couldn’t keep; that female infants were sometimes “dedicated” to gods in the form of temple prostitutes. It was devastated information, and yet if anything, it made me fall in love with the people of India more. The way I had seen the church respond to these issues–of trafficking, of poverty, of persecution–blew me away. Such courage and conviction of belief did not seem to be quite matched elsewhere.

This leads me to today, six days away from finally encountering a culture I’ve been secretly in love with for the last 11 years. I’ll be able to see the church up close. I’ll be able to watch beautiful children learn and grow. I’ll be able to stand in the middle of bustling cities. I’ll be able to feel the Indian heat.

And frankly, I can’t wait.

A chance meeting?

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You’ve probably heard someone say ‘There is no such thing as a coincidence’. Usually people nod their heads and murmur agreement, but the real question is “Do you believe it?“

Are people just wishful thinkers, or is God really so intimately involved in our daily lives that He orchestrate events on our behalf? What will a chance meeting turn into later?

The idea of seeds, planting and harvest is a theme resonant throughout Scripture. Aside from the overt nature of sharing the hope of Christ, there are times we don’t recognize an opportunity at the time, but hindsight has a way of revealing it to us.

On my last day in Cairo, I was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for the rest of the team to come down for checkout. I opened my laptop, and began weeding through emails, and getting pictures uploaded for post, and checking through Facebook.

An older gentleman (whom I’d seen at different times all week) came over and said ‘You work too much’. I told him I was just killing time and not really working at all. He began asking me questions about my visit to Cairo.

Given the upset of the country, I was still guarding my words very carefully so as not to endanger people who live and minister in Cairo. He began asking more pointed questions like “What do you think of this revolution?”

Alarm bells were ringing in my head, so I trod very carefully as I answered. I told him that it was a very exciting time in Egypt’s history. Nothing would ever be the same for the country again. To be here during this growth period was both exhilarating and a little scary.

He then asked what my friends thought of the goings on. Now, here I had to be very careful. I asked God for wisdom and told him that depended on who I spoke with. There were some who were very optimistic about the outcome, although they knew there would be a hard period to get there. Others were very pessimistic and a little fearful about what lay ahead for them. Still others were moving forward in confidence.

He nodded a few times as I responded to his question, then said, “You should come to Lebanon.” I responded “I would LOVE to come to Lebanon!” So he handed me his business card and said, “E-mail me when you come.” He wrote his email address on the bottom of the card.

Initially, I was wary about taking some stranger’s e-mail, but I figured I would not necessarily use it and I did not have to respond by giving him my e-mail. We stood, shook hands and parted. I noted that as he left, he entered a diplomat’s vehicle. Only then did I read his business card.

It read “Mahmoud Hammoud, Lebanese Ambassador”. He’s the former Foreign Minister of Lebanon, currently serving as an ambassador. I have no idea why our paths crossed. However, God orchestrated it for some reason. There are no coincidences…just opportunities. I wonder what comes next.

Help us challenge the NEXT generation

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You have probably seen my posts about our website. I’m not going to go into great detail. But, to recap briefly — IT’S OLD, and it needs to be updated and reprogrammed. But, we still have more than 50-percent to reach our goal of $15,000.

Get an MNN mouse pad when you giveWe NEED your gift of $50 and $100, but we also need some large gifts of $1,000 or $2,000. We need it NOW because it’s being match dollar-for-dollar by a generous donor, up to $7,500.

Why do we need a new Web site? Well, it’s simple — we can’t do some of the things we’re called to do. One of those things is calling young people — the next generation — to join this task of sharing their faith with those who haven’t heard. Yes, we’re doing it on Facebook and Twitter, but we’re missing out in one specific area — phones.

The new website will allow us to provide news bites to those who are using smart phone technology like I-phones and Androids. As part of the reprogramming effort will be creating special apps for each of these devices so those using them can get news and information they need to be Christians who are not only WILLING to go, but more informed where they can go.

Your generous donation can be made here: https://www.MNNonline.org/donate/special and give as generously as you can so we can meet this matching grant quickly!  God bless you for what you’re going to do.

What comes first: chicken or the egg?

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One thing I am noticing here is how different the context of ministry is from country to country.

Ruth on assignment

MNN's Ruth Kramer on assignment.

You can sometimes THINK you understand the concept of the vehicle, like micro-enterprise, but once you hear how things are put into practice, what works and what doesn’t, you begin to see the subtleties emerge.

For example, we met with a partner yesterday who assists community development. They are unashamedly Christian, because the Gospel is part of everything they do…however, they know that dealing with poverty is a ‘must’, as well.

So, which came first, the chicken (community development) or the egg (Gospel)? Can they be done simultaneously and be effective? Do you really just have two eggs or two chickens?

The clear answer on that was: ‘We have an egg, it becomes a chicken’. Folks, that’s the answer to the question of questions. The hope of Christ changes the outlook for the poor in this context.

The other big question was how the community development works in the Egyptian Muslim context in the rural areas. It is in these places where it’s likely opposition will rise up and equate physical attacks. The mindset is quite different.

Micro-enterprise comes up at this point. In some Asian countries, the structure of a micro-enterprise program works like this: church committee sees community member in need (often a believer under the discipleship of the pastor), they provide a loan so this person can start a small business–i.e.—buy a sewing machine to make clothes, or a couple of goats to make cheese and sell milk…from the profits, the person tithes to the church, enabling the support of the pastor…and the person is more able to support him/herself.

However, when I asked about the structure of the micro-enterprise, it can’t work that way in the Egyptian context. There are lots of things that can really be misinterpreted within the social structure (and Islam) and this is one of them.

The set up of the program is similar, but different because it’s tailor-made to fit the need of the people and the mission of the group. That just struck me. I had made an assumption that all micro-enterprise was the same.

I made similar assumptions about vocational training programs, literacy programs, etc (thinking I adjusting for a different context, language, etc). I think it’s kind of a colonialistic thinking that we slip into.

It’s kind of like providing someone a loaf of bread (mission field)…from the grocery store (missionary). They need the food to stay alive, but the plastic around the bread is giving them indigestion. They need to prepare the bread the way they now how and all we need to do is supply the ingredients (resources) and the recipe (training).

Yes, I know you might be thinking ‘well, duh’. It is one thing to say it and to think you might even understand it, it is another thing entirely to actually see it with my own eyes, hear what works and what doesn’t from the guys implementing helps.

By the way, because they do this work well, they have just come under scrutiny. One of this ministry’s main offices was raided by the Egyptian government this week, and the hard drive with the database was taken.

All of their records on every program were on it. Everything is exposed. Their face is an NGO and they are well-known. With the events that have occurred in Egypt over the last month, it’s no surprise they’re looking at all NGO’s.

Please pray for this team. They are careful, and they are smart. Most of all, they want to share the hope of Christ with those they encounter. That love for people permeates everything they touch…including the chickens in the coop…and eggs in the community. Works for me…

The power of prayer unleashed

By | egypt, missions, MNN, news, persecution, special reports, travel | No Comments

Last night, I attended a prayer meeting at a church in downtown Cairo, near Tahrir Square.

MNN in Egypt

MNN in Egypt

The church was gathering to cry out to God in their distress over the recent events in the country, and cry out, they did.

As we sang together, worshiped together, and encouraged one another, I experienced something I have never experienced before. I’m a fairly reserved person and I am even more so in prayer.

It is in times of great distress that I get out of my own way and fall before the Lord prostrate. Last night, although everyone around me was praying in Arabic, I found myself humbled before the Lord and joining in that chorus of crying out.

The pastor was beyond ‘crying out’….he was screaming and sobbing before the Lord, as was much of this nearly 1,000 person gathering. Here they were, in prayer before God, confessing, repenting, requesting and rejoicing…even as tear gas seeped into the courtyard from Tahrir Square.

All of a sudden, I found myself reminding God of His promises, and asking Him to give comfort to His bride in Egypt, to give them hope and wisdom and to be asking with a fierceness I had not ever before encountered…and moments later, the pastor or worship leader would be saying the same thing, or using the same verse, or introducing the song on the same topic…that happened over and over last night.

An immediate confirmation of God’s response left me stunned. Much of what I have heard from Egypt’s Christians that I have encountered has been this is a year of prophecy coming true. There is a GREAT confidence in many of the church leaders and congregations in forging ahead…

The other thing that we’re often hearing is that Egypt’s Church is not ‘persecuted’ so much as it is a church under pressure. The boldness of this family is so encouraging, and such a reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit…especially as they go out with joy to tend to the wounded people coming into the field hospital set up in their courtyard.

The confirmation of God’s answers to prayer gives a great boldness to those on the frontlines of the missional movement in Egypt.

While bombings, riots and general chaos looks really bad in the headlines (and it is happening), fear is not the response of this emboldened Body. Church leaders we have met with all over the city have said the same thing ‘The wall of fear is broken’.

Change is coming. Egypt will have her Revolution…and its face is the Church.

getting ready

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I am making the final preparations for a trip to the Middle East in a few days, and am predictably worried about forgetting something I might need, or not being studied up on the current events of the region.

As I joke about nightmares of forgetting my laptop or some other key piece of equipment, I realize this is a great metaphor for the return of Christ. Unless I live as Christ, eat, drink and breathe Scripture and use every moment to live the hope that is in Him, I will probably find that the time I had here on earth was frittered away.

What it boils down to is living purposefully, so as to not be caught unprepared. My brain immediately went to the parable of the 10 Virgins, in Matthew 25. While I realize this is more about salvation issues, I wound up reflecting on it in a little different context.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This is what is meant to keep vigil. If I’m doing what I should be doing, there won’t be that ‘caught out’ feeling. So, I’ll finish my scramble to get the cords, bits and pieces and batteries together with extra clean socks and deodorant, but keep in my head Paul’s encouragement “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Strength unknown

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Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking with one of my all-time favorite interviewees, Tom Doyle, with E3Partners. Tom is a Middle East liaison of sorts for E3 and is more knowledgeable about the region than almost anyone else I know. It’s always refreshing to hear his perspective not just of the goings-on, but of the way Christians are responding, and will undoubtedly rise up.

This time, we talked about Libya. Libya has been going through a highly disputed (internationally) civil war for the past several months. Now that the country’s dictator Moammar Gaddafi seems to have run off for good, the country is preparing to revamp the government system completely. In many ways they are ready for change. But in other ways, things will remain the same, especially as it relates to Christians.

The nation is 97% Sunni Muslim. New country leaders have said the nation will continue on under the governance of Sharia law. For Christians, and especially Christian converts from Islam, this doesn’t exactly bode well. After months of terrifying war, Christians, according to Tom, don’t appear to be expecting things to get better for them. They will continue to be careful about how they share their faith and how they worship.

Next door, Libya neighbor Egypt is facing similar decisions. The government in Egypt is being similarly revamped, and now, as I see it, looks like it will likely be voting the Muslim Brotherhood as their rulers before long. Egyptian approval for the group has shot up over the last few months, and with organization and a promise of leadership, the group I think appears to Egyptians to be able to do the job. Christian in Egypt will face similar trials as Libyans. Lack of freedom, lack of peace. A recent poll showed that most Egyptians still believe that Muslims who convert to Christianity should be killed.

Now this is probably more background info than you needed; you’re probably not reading this for a news update. But the interesting–amazing–thing about all of this is the Christian response. Believers are not shouting in protest, or really voicing their opinions on their rights at all. More than that, they don’t seem to be that worried about the decisions being made in their nations. Don’t get me wrong, I am certain that some of them are frightened of the things that are possibly to come, but the boldness many have exhibited is astounding. Not only are Christians prepared to continue sharing their faith whatever the consequences (which have been arrest in several instances recently in Egypt), but they’re taking it upon themselves to reach out to other nations. Egyptian Christians are now headed to Libya as missionaries to spread the Gospel. They’re literally risking their lives to get the Gospel to as many broken and lost people as possible.

Now if I’m honest with myself, if I were in this situation, I don’t think that’s how I’d react. I have never in my life been in a situation in which my life was on the line for the Gospel. Now, I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with that–God placed me in America, and that’s where I live and can report these things and learn about them and be missional with my neighbors here. But when I hear stories about believers in war-torn nations, believers who are constantly harassed and even physically abused for their faith, my mind goes numb. That intensity of faith is so foreign to me that I can’t even fathom it.

You know, as an American, it’s so easy to look down on other nations. My whole life, I’ve been in classes talking about how great America is, I’ve said the pledge of allegiance probably about 2,500 times, I’ve been encouraged in America-centric thinking. “America leads the world,” “If there’s no hope for America, there’s no hope for anyone,” etc. With such a barrage of narcissistic beliefs, it’s almost second nature for any U.S. citizen to look at a third-world country and think–even if not in words but just in reactions–that we’re better than them. With that in mind, when I see countries at war with themselves, when I see governments crumble, I have an immediate, base reaction–however wrong it may be–to look down on it, thinking, “Oh, those uncivilized nations.”

And yet. When I see the way that Christians handle themselves, the way that they stand up for their Savior and boldly do anything and everything they have to for the sake of a life saved, all of my country-induced pride is immediately diminished. Here I am, this “great American” who finds it difficult to be bold with my own friends and neighbors in the safest of countries where nothing really is on the line at all. I may have the privilege of education, wealth and power here, but what do I know of true strength? What do I know of watching a sister die at the hands of extremists and not being able to do anything about it? What do I know of sharing my faith, not knowing if the person I’m talking to will rejoice over the news or turn me over to authorities? What do I know of this absolute trust in Christ and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit?

This has turned out to be a much longer thought than I had planned, but it’s good for me (even if you’re bored!) to think through these things and remember that the world is hardly about me, or even America. I have a feeling that on that Day in heaven, many of those who were uneducated, impoverished, oppressed on earth, will be lifted higher than any of the rest. And so today, how will you lift them up? How will I?

Announcing the India/Nepal Trip Winner

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All month long we’ve been seeing hundreds of people enter the Mission Network News/Global Action Touch the World trip to India/Nepal. We’ve read through testimony after testimony.

Today, we randomly picked a winner. Here is the winner — are you ready?

Are you sure?

Are you really sure?

It could be you —

But, the winner of the trip is…..

…..

….

….

Amanda Miller from Pennsylvania.

She’ll be heading to either India or Nepal to distribute blankets to the needy in either November or December (her choice).

Be watching here for more opportunities to win a trip in the weeks and months ahead.

Greg Yoder, Mission Network News

Feeling ‘used’ in a good way

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Orphanage 40 child

Aleena at Orphanage 40.

There are days when you feel inadequate. Then there are days you KNOW you made a difference, even if it was a subtle difference. Today was that day for many of my teammate on the Orphan Outreach trip to Russia this week.

Everyone got up, ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 9:00. Actually, for the first time all week. I was late. I thought I heard, be down with your luggage at 8:00am, breakfast at 8:30 (which were both correct), but here’s where I got side-tracked — I heard, but down by 9:00am, but we won’t leave probably until 9:30. So, to me that meant be down by 9:30, right? Well, not so much. Long story short, I was late — the VERY last person on the bus.

The reason for my delay was uploading video from the previous day.

Excited little boy

Excited little boy at Orphanage 40.

However, today, we were heading to our final stop at Orphanage #40. This orphanage is for children with eye issues — at least ‘officially’. However, there are MANY other issues, too. Cleft lip and pallet, down’s syndrome, severe fetal alcohol issues and the like.

We arrived at the camp along the Gulf of Finland at around 10am. We walked into the woods to a secluded camp setting. There was on newer building that looked like a long motel that you’d see in the U-S. However, the other buildings were wooden structures far enough apart that it takes a little time to walk from building to building.

Team member Olga with Oxana

Team member Olga with Oxana

I started off with the most functional kids. These 12 or so children were those who had eye issues, but we high functioning. Almost all of them were 6 years old. These children listened so well. They did crafts, putting fish stickers on a fish tank looking piece of blue foam. They shared the creation story and they all listened.

The second group of kids, the largest group, of about two dozen kids were those younger and a little less functioning. They were kids with down’s syndrome and fetal alcohol issues. However, most of them could communicate, but they couldn’t control themselves. This group was able to do the craft, but that’s about it. This was the ‘super charged’ play group.

Then, the final group of kids were those low functioning — Down’s syndrome children, fetal alcohol, and other disabilities that require hands on attention.

I visited each group this year. The first group, there was a little boy with my name Gregori, or Gresha. I got a chance to talk to him. He seemed proud that we had the same name. I was able to watch them do their craft and tell a Bible story. It was great to see the happiness on their faces.

We finished with them at around noon, boarded the bus and headed back to St. Petersburg for lunch.

Our next to the last night devotions were really sweet. Ellie shared from the Word, but many more people talked about what God is doing in their lives because of being on the trip. It was a great time of sharing.

Our night ended at McDonald’s. Most got ice cream and just hung out laughing. We’ve done a lot of that on this trip.

Open hearts, closed hearts – mission team unwavered

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What a dramatic difference between Wednesday and Thursday.

First, let me apologize for not posting anything on this blog yesterday. I got everything done — pictures uploaded, video made and scripts written — only to realize the time on my internet card had run out. Unfortunately, no free wifi in Russia. At least not at the hotels we’ve been staying in this week. So, this will be two updates in one.

Orphanage 2

Sergey is a wonderful little boy. We met him last year.

Yesterday, we got up at the same time, ate breakfast and headed in teams to Orphanage Camp #2. This is the camp where we had so much fun last year. We really connected with a lot of the kids. And, it was great to see so many of them again this year. It wasn’t good they were there, but it was fun seeing them grow and seeing them laugh.

 

When I arrived, we walked back to the field where we would be holding our vacation Bible school program. We basically did the same activities we did at the previous day. However, when we made the circle to begin the day, my little friend Sveta walks up and hands me a piece of watermelon. I’m not sure, but I think it was a part of her breakfast. What a thoughtful, loving little girl. I made her eat it. I told her I had already eaten breakfast and she needed to eat it.

After singing a few songs (in English), we broke up into groups. Craft, recreation and memory verse. I went to recreation. Why? Not sure. Knees my age aren’t supposed to be there any more. I may have to start volunteering for crafts in the years ahead. 🙁

Two girls at orphanage 2

Two girls at orphanage 2

It started raining in the afternoon, but despite the rain, we went ahead and did “The Everything” for the teenagers. If you haven’t seen it, click here.

Following the skit, Melissa Blough gave her testimony and I presented the Gospel. Following the skit, there were a few who had questions about it. One girl who will leave the orphanage was challenged by Masha, one of our interpreters, about what she’ll be doing with her life. Many of the boys in the group got very quiet, reflecting on what they had seen and heard. While no one made professions of faith, we were seed planters.

As we got ready to leave the camp, I got the shock of my life. A teen girl who befriended one of our team members last year, pulled me aside. Through an interpreter asked some questions about adoption. I’d like to ask you to pray for this girl we’ll call Ella. She came to Christ last year during camp. She just needs a chance. Pray God will give her one either through adoption or a Christian mentor program.

Today, was a different day altogether.

The camp was cold in every way — emotionally and spiritually. Kids in this camp were actually displaced by a fire. It was in their living area. So,

Teen girl in Orphanage 14.

Teen girl in Orphanage 14.

they were in strange surroundings. When we arrived there wasn’t the typically running beside the bus yelling and screaming. Children weren’t playing happily. There was just a dark cloud.

This was the camp last year where the director has taken our gifts to the kids and took them for himself. The man run his orphanage like a boot camp. There’s much anger and little love. When we walked in the kids hardly even noticed we were there. We organized some duct tape crafts and dream boxes. One boy took his box, threw it out the window and said he was making believe that it was a bomb and he was a terrorist.

While, discouraging, we were able to present the skit. I was able to talk about the fact that they’re either a slave to sin or Christ and that in reality, we have NO freedom. I told them that Christ died for unlovely sinners. He gave His life for people that are actually His enemy. I said it didn’t matter the sin, it was paid for at the cross.

There wasn’t much, if any, response. But, they DID listen. Again, we’re not called to save people. We’re just called to preach the Word and be faithful. God will provide the increase. I’m praying God will protect these kids for angry caregivers and that he’ll replace this unfriendly, unkind director with someone who actually loves the kids.

Pray for the kids as they return to the orphanages next week.

August 17, 2011 Russia Video

Click here to view photos

Laughs in Russia Video