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Sochi is not the picture shown on TV

By | MNN, news, travel | No Comments
Taking the train to the Mountain Cluster events at Sochi.

Taking the train to the Mountain Cluster events at Sochi.

Sochi, Russia (MNN) — Day one is under my belt and the Winter Olympics are so different than what you are seeing on television. While the beautiful picture you’re seeing on television is beautiful. The snow, which is beautiful where there IS snow, but there IS not snow in much of Sochi.

Thursday, February 13 I started off on the train. Richard, Anya, John, and I traveled to what’s called the mountain cluster, where the ski events and bobsled competition are taking place.The rest of the team went to the City Center ‘Fun Zone’ to actually work with the kids and adult visiting the center.

The mountains around the Mountain Cluster at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The mountains around the Mountain Cluster at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Yesterday in the mountains, it was 60 degrees. It was amazingly warm. As long as the sun was out, we were warm. But, as soon as the sun fell behind the clouds or the mountains, it got chilly — but not cold.

In the morning, we spent most of the time just taking in the atmosphere. Since the ‘Fun Zone’ didn’t open until 3, we were able to take video, conduct interviews with church members and spent some time being the subject of interviews from CBS News and Russian TV.

We were eating lunch at McDonalds, we were approached by a Russian translator from CBS News. She said they were looking for Americans, but they were hard to find. It was probably because the U.S. media did such a good job scaring away the American public. At any rate, they asked if we would be willing to answer some questions. We agreed. It was fun. We were asked about everything from why we were there, what sports we enjoy (my response was hockey), and why we were there. John told them he love curling. He was so animated. He’s probably going to be on TV.

Teen girls enjoy the fun zone in the mountain cluster.

Teen girls enjoy the fun zone in the mountain cluster.

After our time there, we went to the fun zone. It was a small place connected to the local church. But local kids were very involved in it. They had a trampoline, a blow-up room, and lots of games and interaction with adults. It was a great opportunity to have fun with the kids.

Since this is a battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness, I found out that our producer (who was filling in for me while I’m in Russia) got the flu. So, I had to head back to City Center to anchor our news broadcast. But, before that I was able to do an interview with Richard Page, John Rysdyck, and other members of the team about what they were going at the ‘Fun Zones.’ That became the story for Mission Network News.

Friday, the whole team is heading to the City Center ‘Fun Zone’ to spend time with visitors both children and adults. Saturday, I’ll be heading to an actual event. CURLING. Unfortunately, I was able to attend my event Thursday because of the emergency at work, but I’m looking forward to that, and watching the U.S.A. vs Russia hockey game in the City Center main screen. It’ll be fun interacting with the Russian during the game.

Pray for us! I’m battling sleep deprivation because of a snorer in our room. 🙂 Pray that I’ll avoid getting sick and that I would be able to get my work done. But, more importantly, pray that the stories I write will be the stories God will use to call His people to his service.

Mission Network News in Sochi

By | missions, travel | No Comments

While the 2014 Winter Olympics are already underway, I am waiting patiently for my flight to leave. Yes, I am leaving for the Winter Olympics on February 11 to catch up with Russian and American Christians who are working together to love those who are in Sochi. This is a grass roots ministry effort spearheaded by the Russia Inland Mission, support by SOAR International based in Alaska.

Sochi Hospitality Center.

Sochi Hospitality Center.

What’s the ministry? They have open three hospitality centers in three areas. Each center will have viewing centers, but will also provide entertainment and interaction with those who venture in. The goal is to begin relationships that open doors to eventually share Christ.

Beginning February 13, I’ll begin covering the outreach events at the centers. I’ll be interviewing local Christians,national ministry leaders, participants and maybe even athletes about their involvement. I’ll also look behind the scenes to get unique stories about God’s work at the Olympics.

I’ll be featuring stories for radio, video and here on this blog every day between February 13-19. Unfortunately I will not be there for the entire Winter Games, but I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with my brothers and sisters who are sharing their faith in Sochi.

 

Greg and Team to Russia

By | missions, MNN, news, orphans, special reports, travel | 5 Comments

Russia (MNN) — You’ll never know what it means for you to love a child. That statement is reverberating around in my head. I have been on many short-term mission trips. Most of them have centered around helping orphaned children. I’ve always wondered what difference it made — until now.

On June 30, 2013 I will be traveling with Orphan Outreach to document a story that’s come full-circle. It’s the story of a woman who discovered a little boy with incredible needs and simply loved him.

Greg with Svyeta

Greg with Svyeta

I don’t want to spoil the surprise because the video that we’ll be producing will give you the details of the story. But, the conclusion is that because of this woman’s love and affection for this boy, now, as a young man he understands that God is the one who orchestrated it.

The bottom line is this young man had a disability that most of his caregivers said he wouldn’t survive. It caused incredible deformity. Yet, this woman’s relentless care for him made it possible for him to get the medical attention he needed to lead a normal life (his words). Even though it took years.

Understanding that she did something special for him, he made it his purpose in his young adult life to find her and thank her for what she did for him. One year ago, he found her. This week we’ll be reuniting these two. We’ll catch it all on video so you can see it first hand.

While I’d love to give you all of the specifics, I would like them to play out naturally. As they do, I’ll pass the information along to you through this blog.

It’s all happening in the city of St. Petersburg, Russia. A city full of history. It’s also home to orphaned children who can no longer be adopted by American families. Their futures are bleak.

The second part of our coverage will focus on what happens to orphaned children when they age out of the orphanages. Who do they look to for guidance. Who helps them understand how to budget, buy groceries, pay bills, take care of their apartment, and help them make important personal decisions? Also, what role does the local church play in all this?

We’re hoping to answer all those questions and develop a tool to encourage Christians in the United States to come along side churches in Russia so they can work together to help orphaned and foster care children in both nations.

Come by my blog all week along and I try to share my heart.

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.

Paradigm Shift

By | india, missions, MNN, travel | No Comments

I totally got rocked today. The slums I’ve only read about & seen in Slumdog Millionaire became real, in all their disparaging glory. It was a total sensory overload – I’ve never seen anything like what I saw today, and the smell was something you’ll never experience unless you’re in a developing nation. Which I think would be a valuable experience for ALL Western believers, because unless you open your heart and allow Jesus to change your thinking, I’m convinced you’ll miss a chance to further the Kingdom of God.

While I’m still trying to recover from the total overhaul that was this afternoon, I’ll try to paint at least a small picture of what I experienced in the slums of Mumbai.

I was at a Gospel for Asia-supported Bridge of Hope center in Families exist in a structure that’s roughly the size of my bathroom. There’s stagnant water, trash, and the smell of it EVERYWHERE, complete with flies. Pigs roam freely, looking as home in the refuse as the people do. Kids under 4 are usually bare from the waist down, while some roam amid broken glass and similar hazards completely without shoes or clothes.

But what hung heavier over this place than the smell was the spiritual darkness.

I saw a demon-possessed woman rock back and forth and thrash around on the floor as believers battled for her freedom through prayer. She was a rag doll, victim to the demon raging war inside of her. The woman’s hands often hung limply, despite a body that moved as if a puppet on a string.

I also saw believers so full of JOY despite their circumstances it put my own faith to shame. The kids smile from ear-to-ear and delight in shaking hands and being photographed. Christ-followers in this country pray and fast with fervor, as I think the Lord intended. It often seems like it’s a last resort in the West, when believers can’t do something by their own ability or wisdom. But here it’s a first step – Christians here don’t do ANYTHING without first fasting and praying over the decision before them.

I’m definitely taking THAT lesson to heart. Thank you Jesus.

After seeing what I’ve seen so far on this trip, it really shouldn’t surprise me that India is growing by leaps and bounds while America’s on the quick downward slide. The Body of Christ here lives as Christ told us to and honors HIM as their ultimate authority – not themselves. It’s a wake-up call I wish everyone could experience, because maybe it would change the way we act as Christ-followers. Maybe we would start living like the Church the Lord calls us to be. And maybe our nation would follow.

How would your life change if you took your eyes off of yourself? It’s a question I’ll be battling for the rest of this trip. Maybe my spiritual life would start to look like that of the believers here, and would start producing fruit like what I’ve seen abounding in India.

Maybe then I’ll be worthy to stand alongside them as part of the true Body of Christ.

To learn more about how Gospel for Asia works in India, click here.

See pictures of my slum visit on the MNN Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/missionnetworknews

From the Midwest to Mumbai

By | india, MNN, special reports, travel | One Comment

Anyone who knows me well knows the fire God put in my heart for India, and especially the Dalits. They’re the social lepers of India, a people once labeled “untouchable”. We’ve written hundreds of stories about the Dalits at MNN, and every time we get a news alert from our partners, I’m eager to see how God is working among them.

Over the next two weeks, I don’t have to wait for a story to come in to hear how God is working. I get to see it first-hand.

I’ll be traveling from Delhi in northern India all the way to the southern state of Tamil Nadu. I’m expecting to see how God is working among orphans, widows, Dalits & indigenous missionaries. Each day, I’ll be sharing what I experience with our followers on MNN, Facebook, & Twitter.

As I sit at the airport waiting for my delayed flight, I can’t help but wonder – how will God change me? I’m eager to see how God is changing lives in India, but how will I change as a result? How will this trip affect our marriage? Jeff & I have only been married for 8 months, and this is the longest time we’ll be apart – it’s been a struggle already, and I haven’t even left yet! How will God comfort us during this time of separation?

These questions & so many more are pop-corning around my mind like grasshoppers in a jar. Hopefully I’ll have some answers/insights for you in the coming days!

India

By | india, missions, MNN, news, special reports, travel | No Comments
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?

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

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.

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.