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A God bigger than numbers

By | missions, MNN, persecution, Personal Life | One Comment
Photo courtesy of Lynne Hand via Flickr, creative commons (https://flic.kr/p/CdUSJ)

Photo courtesy of Lynne Hand via Flickr, creative commons (https://flic.kr/p/CdUSJ)

Most mornings, I start my day no different from any other college student. I push snooze too many times and wake up in a panic when I realize how late it is. I quickly get dressed, wait for my coffee, and then I’m on my way.

Like many college students, I have a job. I work here, at Mission Network News. But this is no typical college job. For a few hours a day, I’m pulled out of the inward-focused world of an oblivious student to learn and write about what on earth is going on.

If you’ve been keeping up on international news, you know that things aren’t so pretty around the world. The Islamic State continues to hog the headlines with new horror stories. They post on social media, glorifying their latest and most heinous deeds.

Meanwhile, isolated families in Africa are without access to resources that will protect them against the very diseases they’re being quarantined for. Millions of people in South Sudan are on the brink of famine, but the civil war continues.

Worldwide, countries struggle against the number of orphaned children living in the streets. Many of these children, caught in the harsh cycle of poverty, face a harrowing future.

Lebanon, Western Ukraine, and many other countries fight the financial and logistical challenges created by refugee and IDP camps. The camp residents themselves are freezing or starving to death but there is little they can do about it.

Meanwhile, one of our biggest annual events back at home, the Super Bowl, continues each year to walk hand-in-hand with the exploitation of human beings through sex-trafficking.

I could literally go on forever about the trials being faced all around the world: deceitful world leaders, abused children, decades-long attempts at genocide, church burnings, and more. I could even zero in on an often-overlooked hardship– missionaries who face rejection on a daily basis by people groups who have been a burden on their hearts for years and years.

Don’t get me wrong– we don’t just write tragedy and horror. We pass on wonderful stories of redemption, perseverance, forgiveness, and overcoming. Most inspiring are the stories of people turning to God and finding hope just when they thought there was none. And with each story we cover, we’re able to offer resources and access to people who want to help.

Even so, some days this typical college student is faced with the temptation to despair. Or perhaps even worse, I’m tempted to turn back inwardly again and focus on my own issues. They certainly seem friendlier than the face of terrorism, starvation, etc.

But to do so would be to miss something extremely important. Not only is it important for me to care and help anyway I can, but it’s important to remember that God does care and can do anything.

Journalists often use cold, hard, numerical facts to convey important information. These statistics have the potential to stun and shock. All too often they’re overwhelming. But I want to remind you, God is no stranger to statistics. He is not overcome by numbers.

"I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore."(Genesis 22:17a ESV) Photo by Julie Oosterhouse

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”(Genesis 22:17a ESV) Photo by Julie Oosterhouse

In fact, our perception of God’s glory is often magnified through numbers. For instance, a nation as numerous as the number of stars in the sky and grains of sand on the earth came from two people in their 90’s!

Time and time again God protected this nation when they were far outnumbered by their enemies– and he continues to do so. A God who can cover a land with innumerable locusts and frogs in a day and then remove them just as quickly can certainly lead his people out of the reach of the enemy.

God built his temple by numbers, and led 300 men into victory against the Midianites and Amalekites who were as numerous as sand.

God allowed three men to walk unscathed in a furnace that was heated seven times its normal temperature.

From a few loaves of bread and some fish, Jesus fed thousands– twice. His miracles and healings were so numerous they would fill a never-ending book.

Later on, Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed for just 30 pieces of silver. He allowed himself to be denied by a beloved disciple three times. He allowed the majority of the crowd to desire the life of a criminal more than his. Yet in three days, he rose again.

God does not operate within the bounds of numbers or quantity. His decisions aren’t based on probability, financial availability, or even ticking time. He is ruler over all these things. And through them, he is glorified.

When I’m tempted to turn away from the world’s number of horrors, and the horrors illustrated by numbers, I’m disallowing myself from seeing some of God’s glory. I am forgetting he will conquer all, that his plan is absolutely perfect, and that he is bigger and stronger than any plan according to man.

To be able to learn this as a college student and be challenged by it daily is just one of the many blessings that come with working at MNN.

What Muslim extremists have taught me

By | missions, MNN, persecution, Personal Life | No Comments

USA (MNN) — The last few weeks have been kind of frustrating both professionally and personally. Professionally as I have covered terror in the world. Personally as I have been the target of attacks simply for being a Christian.

Mission Network News continues to focus on what’s going on in the world as it relates to Muslim extremism. Islamic State gains and their tactics to gain control of the world have been shocking. ISIS fighters are kidnapping girls and using them for their own pleasure, attacking innocent people because they don’t agree with their faith, crucifying Christians, and forcing children to execute men and women. These things are horrifying.

Those things–coupled with Boko Haram using children as suicide bombers in Nigeria, plus the Muslims radicals who attacked a satire magazine/newspaper in France killing 12 people–leave me wondering, “What’s next?”

I actually find myself shaking my head in disbelief.  I find myself wondering, “How could any human being be associated with this religion? Why don’t we just annihilate them? Why don’t we just shoot and ask questions later?”

Personally, I received some attacks from a couple of people while I was tweeting. I was complaining about not having a particular news service that I believe is fair and balanced, when I was verbally assaulted. First, it was because I was a loyal viewer. Then, when they realized I was a Christian, they started saying things that would make a sailor blush. I was shocked.

At first, I was really angry. “Why would people be saying something about me when they don’t even KNOW me? How could someone be so verbally vicious? How could someone really have those views of ALL Christians?” I wanted to jab back with insults and anger. I started to. I made a couple of comments that were — um — probably not so nice. Then, I realized something.

In both of these circumstances, they don’t know any better. How can we expect anyone who isn’t a Christ-follower to act like a Christ-follower?

In the first situation, I firmly believe the evil one is using radical Islam to attack those who are trying to reach them with the Gospel. Think about it. Today, we’re seeing more Muslims than ever before coming to Christ. Do you think Satan likes that? What better way to hamper that outreach than to encourage Christians to be afraid of, or hate Muslims. Many Christians are so afraid they won’t even talk to a Muslim. Some Christians are so full of hate toward Muslims they’re not much better than the radicals.

In the second situation, I believe Satan was trying to luring me into an argument that would do nothing but hurt my reputation and testimony and give the attackers even more fodder for their verbal assaults. So, rather than lobbing venomous insults at those attacking me, I simply asked questions. I tried to be kind (which is hard to perceive in a tweet that’s only 140 characters).  I asked them why they were swearing at me and lobbing sexual insults to me simply because I was a Christian. As I was able to get the tone ratcheted back in check, I asked the question of myself, “What if I’m the only Christian these people have ever met?”

I may have blown it. We may be blowing it together. When you’re attacked (physically or emotionally) by someone who’s a non-Christian, what’s your first response? I’m not saying it’s easy to love people like that. It’s hard. But, why aren’t we following in the steps of Jesus Himself who willingly gave the executioner His hand, only to have nails driven into them? Why aren’t we trying to ignore the insults and love our enemies — even doing something kind for them, which is anti-everything we’re thinking about.

Mission Network News constantly tells incredible stories of Christian men and women who are suffering. They aren’t asking that we pray for their protection (even though we should do that). They’re not asking us to advocate for them to their local government (even though we should do that, too). They’re humbly receiving oppression, trusting that God is in control and that He as a plan for everything — even their suffering.

The question that I have for you today is this: “How are you responding to oppression by those who don’t know Christ?”

I would like to hear your stories of how God is allowing you to be oppressed for your faith and how you’re responding to that. Many of you live in the West where it’s pretty easy to be a Christian. Others of you don’t. Please include your successes and your failures. Perhaps we can all learn from each other.

How can you have peace in hard times?

By | persecution, Personal Life | No Comments

“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

Tornadoes, like the one that came through our neighborhood earlier this year, can cause major destruction in a matter of minutes. How do you find peace when the tornadoes of life come?  (Photo cred: Katey Hearth)

Tornadoes, like the one that came through our neighborhood earlier this year, can cause major destruction in a matter of minutes. How do you find peace when the tornadoes of life come?
(Photo cred: Katey Hearth)

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples in one of their last meetings together. In the hours that followed, Jesus would be severely beaten, mocked, humiliated and ultimately hung to suffer on a Roman crucifix. The disciples’ world was quickly turned upside-down and sideways, simply because they followed a humble carpenter from Galilee.

The same is happening today to hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world.

The list goes on and on; persecution of Christians is taking place on a worldwide basis. Check out this list our friends at Open Doors USA put together. It’s called the “World Watch List”, and it shows you which countries have the most violence against Christians.

Peace may seem hard to find in this chaotic and often-violent world. When peace is elusive, at least in my case, anxiety is quick to set in. When situations and circumstances spiral out of control, my knee-jerk response is to worry and fret.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

These simple statements a two-fold promise: you will face trials, but you will also overcome them. We often don’t know how the Lord will help us get through a hardship, or when we will see Him act. But, the end result is promised: we will overcome.

When you know how a story ends, it often provides peace to “ride out the storm” and endure whatever challenges come your way. Please join me today in praying for peace and endurance for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

How do you find peace in the middle of life’s storms? Let me know in the Comments section! 

The View From India

By | india, missions, Personal Life, travel | One Comment

Since 2007, I’ve had such a passion for India. I’ve always been on the outside looking in though, seeing its oppression, cruel injustice and spiritual hunger from my comfortable life in America. I’ve always wanted to do SOMETHING to fix it – to be a voice for the voiceless in India, to let the world know about the struggles Christians here face.

Now that I’m actually in the place I’ve only prayed, read and written about, I’m getting a surprising view as I turn and look back at the country I left behind. Don’t get me wrong; the Indian believers are NOT bashing the U.S. or anything like that. I’m saying all of this from personal observations and reflections.

In many ways, the Church here is so much stronger than in America. Here, it feels like the New Testament has come to life…I can’t really say the same for the U.S.

In India, prayer and fasting are such a priority. They seek God before any and every major decision. When’s the last time I did that? When is prayer and fasting ever a priority of ours? It’s wise to seek counsel from godly friends and parents, but is that really a priority over seeking the face of God? He’s already got the plan of our lives written. Why do we hesitate to ask Him which direction we should take?

Another thing I’ve observed is the importance of repentance. A very wise man said today, “When in doubt, repent.” I can’t remember the last time anyone (including myself) made repentance a priority or a possible source of the problems we face. I’m not well-versed in Scripture or claim to have a vast knowledge of God, but did you ever consider that maybe we face certain challenges because there’s a sin we haven’t turned from?

These are just a couple of things that have stood out to me so far, and I’m sure there will be plenty more! Stay tuned for updates.

Read more about how God is working in India by clicking here.

How Mozambikway is next to Indonesia

By | missions, MNN, Personal Life | No Comments

Once upon a time, many years ago, when I first started at Mission Network News, I got a call from a listener who was talking to me about what she perceived to be an error in one of our stories.

Essentially, what it boiled down to was my arguing with her over an assertion that the country of ‘Mozambikway’ was next to Indonesia. Our conversation ended abruptly when she hung up on me.   I spent a lot of time ruefully shaking my head at her stubbornness, her refusal to know what the reality was and found myself generally quite puffed up with pride.

Today, our team still jokes about Mozambikway, but now that country has joined a list of misnomers (like Kajikistan) that came from my own lip trips, stumbles and assorted other bloopers where my mouth did not quite cooperate with my brain.

My point is this: sometimes, in the quest for kingdom building, we lose sight of the purpose and get stuck and proud over what we think we know. The Gospel is not about showing off. In fact, anyone who has ever been working as the hands and feet of Christ anywhere around the world knows that the moment you make the Gospel about you, you’ve lost your credibility as a ‘little Christ’.

The first Commandment is ‘No other Gods’, followed by ‘No idols’, and then ‘Don’t misuse My Name’. When we forget our purpose for being here, we forget not only ourselves, but also our message. Pride in our knowledge and pride in our excellence of work becomes the next brick we are making in the pyramids.  It’s so easy to lose sight of who God is, who we are and we get hung up on little arguments that ultimately do not service unity in a world that needs a Savior.  Ouch.

The Shema is a great reminder of who we are: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deut 6:4-9

Yes, at MNN, we strive for excellence, accuracy and Truth. We want to motivate believers to respond to what they’re hearing. We encourage you, our brothers and sisters to pray, give, or go.  Still, there’s Truth, and then there’s truth. Arguing for the sake of being right has no place in the Kingdom. What is true and real will always be so, in God’s creation. What that means is that for some people, Mozambikway is next to Indonesia…which is just south of Kajikistan in the world of mistakes.

I’m not advocating mis-education or ignorance, I’m merely pointing out that perhaps in that argument, I missed the forest for the trees. 15 years later, I realize that I missed her interest in taking Bibles to an island (the Moluccas) off the coast of Indonesia.

If part of the Shema is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”, let’s do that as we search for and share God’s truths with one another. Mission Network News plays a role in this walk for many.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Let’s journey together off the same map…

me, Me, ME

By | Personal Life | No Comments

I just finished reading the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Altogether it was convicting at times and a nice base for discussion. But the last chapter is what got me going more than anything else–and the line that struck me wasn’t even from Chan. He quoted a woman, Amy Dillard I think, saying, “How you live your days is how you live your life.” That stopped me in my tracks. “What do I do during the day?” I thought. Well, I work, I run errands, I clean, I work out, I cook, I watch TV, I spend time with my husband, I spend time with friends. Nothing really out of the ordinary from the average American, really. The problem is, the average American can be defined by one word: selfish.

Anyone at Mission Network News will tell you our jobs are pretty high-stress. We have daily deadlines, we are trying to look for news from a perspective virtually no one else has or will report on, and occasionally the stories we write can be so high-security that if a mistake is made, a life could literally be on the line. At work, it’s easy to focus on what I have to get done, and even easier to grumble (out loud or in my mind) at the work load because it may be something outside of what I want to do. (It’s a little embarrassing even discussing this when I think about the martyrs, and persecuted believers, and suffering refugees that I write about on a daily basis, but the truth is, throughout all of that, I still manage to focus on my wants and desires.) When I come home from a day of work in this kind of environment, my default is still me.  I want to veg out in front of the TV, do something mindless, and eat dinner. It’s hard to call up a friend to check in, to write a note to my sister, or to even just consider that my husband could have had a rough day too. I’m a generally caring person, but I still find myself asking more often than not, “What does Elisa feel like doing right now?”

Some people would probably justify that. My friends will sometimes tell me that since I work a high-stress job, I deserve a break. It’s nice of them I suppose, but the trouble is, I start to believe it. But where in the Bible does it say, “Work hard until you don’t feel like it, and then focus solely on yourself”? If my days reflect my life, and my days are focused on me, my life can only be about…me. And I’m not sure that’s what Christ intended when he told us to pick up our cross and follow Him.

As I read that line from Amy Dillard, at first I thought about all the significant changes I must make to have a better day-to-day, to have a better overall life. Volunteer more! Go on a mission trip! Sell my stuff! But as I read on in that last chapter, I realized that not everyone is called to the same thing. In fact, I may be called to continue an “average” American life simply with a different focus. There is nothing wrong with a life that looks average when it’s lived for the Lord. My husband’s grandfather was a man I admired more than almost any believer, but really, the story of his life was not exceptional. He was a builder who moved from Norway to the States as a teen, never finished high school and never went to college. He didn’t sit on the board of a ministry, and I don’t know if he ever went on a mission trip. But there was something so defining about this man that just radiated Christ. He had Lymphoma toward the end of his life, and it seemed like every nurse wanted to work in his room. The joy and love that he showed to everyone on a daily basis characterized his entire life. His love for the Lord defined him. Out of all the words I would use to describe him, “selfish” would not be on even the bottom-most words on the list.

So for now, I am taking baby steps. I have started to just ask God daily to open my eyes to the wants and needs of those around me, and to respond to those before I respond to myself. I realize that asking God to help me see others’ needs is a far cry from actually being a selfless person, but maybe taking this small step on a daily basis will help to make my life a reflection of a loving person and a loving God.