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special reports

What’s the message from the VOM tragedy?

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Late last week I received some terrible news. It was a message from Todd Nettleton. He’s a dear friend at Voice of the Martyrs. He told me in an email that a man I have admired for a long time, Tom White,  had died. The story surrounding his death is tragic. If you haven’t heard, here’s the release on VOM’s Web site:

“April 20, 2012 The Voice of the Martyrs statement concerning the death of Tom White:

The events of the last week are tragic. On Wednesday we learned that Tom White, VOM’s executive director, had died.

Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl. Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life.

None of those in leadership at VOM, including our board of directors, were aware of these allegations at the time of Tom’s death.

There is no doubt that Tom cared about his wife, his children and his grandchildren. And there’s no doubt that he cared about VOM.

We are deeply saddened by these events. Our hearts are broken.

However, the work that God has called VOM to do is bigger than any one of us. There are persecuted Christians who need our help. The legal process will go forward, and we will continue serving with our persecuted brothers and sisters.

We appreciate the many who are praying for our work, and we encourage you to join us in praying for Tom’s family during this difficult time.”

What is the message from this tragedy? I wish I had an answer. I lost a lot of sleep the night I found out about this news. If this can happen in Tom’s life, this can happen in the life of ANY Christian. I Corinthians 15:10 starts by saying, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” I can only say that we would all fail if it wasn’t for God’s grace. Apart from Him we’re nothing. Apart of Christ, we can’t help but be as pagan as anyone else in the world.

The question I have is what are we doing to protect ourselves? How are we holding each other accountable? For those in high leadership positions, who’s their accountability? For men, pornography can debilitate us. It can cripple our ministries. The sexual sins are the ones Satan will use to destroy us. If it can happen to a man after God’s own heart (King David), it can happen to anyone. As Christians we need to stay in His Word and have accountability partners who we’re not just meeting with once a week. We need people who are intimately a part of our lives, asking tough probing questions.

We’ll never know what happened in this situation. If the allegations are true, a man who I admired as a man of God who cared about persecuted Christians around the world, fell. His sin cost him his life by his own hand. It puts a ministry in the cross-hairs of the secular scrutiny.

What can we do? My suggestion is pray! Pray that God would comfort Tom White’s family. They have to be feeling so much pain. Pray for the alleged victim and her family. Pray for Voice of the Martyrs. Ask God to protect them from the fall-out from what could happen as the secular press begins talking about this tragedy.  Finally, pray God’s protection for yourselves and other Christian leaders. We need your prayers. Pray that God will protect us from attacks from the Devil, and that He would protect us from ourselves.

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.

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?

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

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.”

IDOP 2011

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After a four year absence from the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Radio broadcast, Mission Network News is again featuring a special this year. Why has MNN been away for so long?  It’s not because we don’t care about the persecuted church.

Mission Network News never wants to put a broadcast on the air for the sake of putting a broadcast on the air. Our desire is similar to our radio broadcast, we want to present a broadcast that will change hearts and lives. Our desire for IDOP is to provide music that coincides with the persecuted church. We want to have a speaker that will challenge Christians to step out of their comfort zones and do something for God, no matter what the cost. We also want to provide a time of prayer for hot spots in the world where persecution is taking place every day.

This year, Mission Network News will again be broadcast the IDOP Radio broadcast features music, message and prayer from persecuted church believers. We’ll have music from some of your favorite Christian artists, Carl Moeller will present a message about the privilege of persecution, plus Christians from around world praying for their nation where it’s a challenge to simply be a Christian.

If you’d like to hear this radio broadcast, encourage your local radio station to air it. It’s free and will be available on our website for a free download, or stations who have the Amb-os system will have it available on their system on November 7.

Remember, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Sunday, November 13. Also, if you’d like to remember to pray for the persecuted church every day, get a “One With Them” barbed wire looking rubber wristband. It’ll not only remind you to pray for persecuted Christians worldwide, but will be a great conversation starter.

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

Norway terror may hurt Christians

By | missions, news, special reports | One Comment

Police have arrested 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik of Oslo, Norway on the island of Utoya in connection with the deadly bombing and shooting that killed 92. Investigators allege Mr. Breivik detonated the car bomb and then drove to Utoya and opened fire on teenagers attending a camp there organized by the ruling Norwegian Labor party.

There’s more tragedy to this story. On his Facebook page he calls himself a ‘Christian’. That has led to news reports calling him a ‘radical Christian’. Does that sound familiar?

What will this mean for Christian work in Norway? It’s still unfolding. According to news reports churches across the country were open all weekend to help Norwegians deal with the tragedy. In a pluralistic society that doesn’t tolerate intolerance, who knows what this monicker ‘fundamentalist Christian’ will reveal.

The other question I have is how will the rest of the world treat Christians in response to this tragedy? In the United States, Christians have already been marginalized because of what they call ‘extreme views’.

What extreme views? There is only one way to heaven, through Jesus Christ alone. There are moral absolutes. I could go on about our views, but those are the ones that bother non-Christians the most.

This tragedy could further marginalize Christians. As left winged political pundits begin focusing on Mr. Breivik’s Christianity, my fear is that all Christians will be painted with the same brush.

However, we know that killing 92 people isn’t what Christ would have us do. Jesus said to “love one another.” How many times did He tell us that?

Unfortunately, when we’re attacked, it’s hard to do that. That’s why we need the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer every day for being a Christian. They simply keep loving, in spite of the trauma they face.

My prayer today is that God will allow REAL Christians to come forward in Norway. That REAL Christians will show the world what Christianity is all about and that His name would be glorified through the pain.