South Asia (MNN) — The 12th South Asian Games are underway, providing a perfect showcase for international collaboration under SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
It was created to organize and unite the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Myanmar has expressed interest in becoming a full member, while Russia and Turkey have applied for observer status. The region is home to 21% of the world’s population and 9% of the world’s economy.
It is also a region known for its hostility to the Gospel. Six of the eight SAARC nations are in the top 50 countries of places where the persecution of Christians is the worst, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List: Afghanistan (4); Bangladesh (35); Bhutan (38); India (17); Maldives (13); Pakistan (6).
The challenge for the region’s church leaders and pastors is how to cooperate internally with all of the external pressures mounting. Many of these countries also have a growing ISIS presence.
Jonathan Shibley with Global Advance says, “Every one of these pastors has counted the cost. They know that potentially, their life could be on the line. But also, they all say–to the last one of the–that the love of God is what can penetrate the hardest of hearts.”
Last week, Global Advance held a Frontline Shepherd’s Conference. Shibley explains that the strained relations between India and Pakistan affected the church leaders, which is why it was hosted in an undisclosed location inside a neutral country for these church leaders. He marvels, “This group: they have a robust vision to plant 1500 new churches over the next 15 years. Many of those will probably be in the form of home churches.”
How does this take shape in the shadow if ISIS? “Through relational evangelism, through friendship, God is breaking through to people, and they’re opening up to the message of Christ. We need to continue to pray that they [pastors] will be protected, that they’ll be strengthened, that they’ll be emboldened.”
Some of that involves sharing their burdens. Shibley explains, “One of the brothers had one of the only Christian television networks out of Karachi, Pakistan. It was a worldwide news story when his station was firebombed in November. He was a part of our meetings and just shared some of the challenges, yet also, the openness to the Gospel.” The healing was something to behold. When he said he was rebuilding, the body of Christ responded in kind. “It was a beautiful sight to see pastors and leaders from Sri Lanka give of their own resources to help him buy a new camera to get going again.”
Global Advance training events are catalysts for church planting and more. The ministry provides national pastors and church leaders with a vision in their hearts and tools in their hands, says Shibley. In the SAARC nations, persecution is not a surprise, but that doesn’t make it less hard.
“Pray for these leaders, that they’ll continue to be bold, that they won’t back down, that also they’d be protected, that God would carry out His purposes in their regions of the world, and for us to help them when we have opportunities.”
What it boils down to: Equipping indigenous leaders = the best ROI in Missions.