Christian Today Digest – August 2015

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To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It's a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

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Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published on recently.

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Pakistan: 1,000 girls forced to convert to Islam every year

From "World" section

Every year, at least 1,000 Pakistani girls are forced into Muslim marriages and made to convert to Islam, according to a new report.

The "Forced Marriages and Inheritance Deprivation" report from the Karachi-based Aurat Foundation claims that between 100 and 700 Christian girls, and around 300 Hindu girls, are married forcibly each year and forced to convert to Islam.

It quotes statistics from the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan (MSP), which says that an additional 1,791 forced conversions took place between 2000 and 2012. More than 600 of those converted were originally Christians.

Director of the Aurat Foundation, Mahnaz Rehman, explained to Fides news agency that forced conversion and marriage is common in Pakistan, but is largely ignored by police and civil authorities.

Women face significant discrimination, particularly on a religious basis, she added. Those who are forced to marry are often threatened and pressurised by their husband and his family to declare that their conversion was voluntary, even if the case is taken to court.

When MSP first released its statistics last year, its investigation found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: girls, often between the ages of 12 and 25, are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate. If a complaint is filed, then "girls are held in custody by the abductors [until the hearing] and suffer all kinds of abuse and violence," the Aurat Foundation states.

"These cases are never investigated seriously to shed light on the phenomenon and mechanism of the crime."

However, many forced marriages go unreported because "women are considered and treated as repositories of family honour, whose defiance or disobedience is tantamount to public shame and humiliation," and it is also often used as a cover for human trafficking.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in May urged the Obama Administration to designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern" and blamed the Pakistani government for failing to provide adequate protection to targeted groups.

"Forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls and young women into Islam and forced marriage remains a systemic problem," its annual report said. Hundreds of Christians and Hindus are estimated to be victimised each year, it added.

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Pastors! Stop telling me to pray for my non-existent husband

From "Life" section

Carey Lodge on being single and the kind of sermon she really wants to hear

At the Hillsong Conference in London I was told to pray for my future husband, and unfortunately not for the first time. Growing up in the Church, at least once a year our youth group was forced to sit through a series of sessions on dating and relationships that would end in writing a list of attributes that our perfect spouse would have, and a deep and meaningful prayer for our all elusive future "one".

These sessions were largely met with a mixture of glee (by those of us who hoped that the boy we fancied might actually be kicked into gear and ask us out) and downright fear.

And it's not just left to youth groups either. At the Hillsong Conference, Jentezen Franklin gave a passionate sermon on the importance of treasuring your family, church and relationship with God. It was spot on in so many ways, but I couldn't help being irked by the constant reference to husbands and wives, and the spoken assumption that if we didn't have one now, we would one day. While married couples may well have made up the majority of the audience, there were still probably several thousand single people in the room, wondering what their part was going to be in that.

The enemy wants to break up families, Franklin said. So we must pray ardently for our marriages - and if you're not married now, pray for the protection of your future marriage.

I have no doubt that his intentions were good, and I don't want to pin this whole issue on him. But those underlying assumptions speak of a wider problem in the Church: the idolisation of marriage and therefore the implicit demeaning of singleness.

Don't get me wrong, marriage seems to be fairly excellent, in all, and I would love to be a wife one day, but we can't assume that it's going to happen for all of us, or indeed that it should. Some Christians will never get married - that's just a fact. Others will marry, and then divorce. Many will live a life of singleness. Is it because they didn't pray hard enough aged 15?

In our hyper-sexualised, hyper-romantic culture we've been lulled into seeing coupledom as the ideal, the final product. We've bought into the lie of the rom-com. I love a Nicholas Sparks movie as much as the next person with horrible taste in films, but Hollywood is underpinned by the unrealistic notion that all will be well when the hunk with the nice arms turns up, especially if he happens to be Zac Efron.

I'm just not convinced it's as black-and-white as that. And it's not a narrative that should be perpetuated by the Church.

Prayer is powerful, absolutely, and we should be praying for our relationships and families. But to tell me to pray for my future husband is to assume that there will be one, and to stir up the possibility of deep disappointment, even resentment, should it not occur. I have friends left deeply bitter and confused by their singleness as a result of years of hearing these messages from the pulpit.

As for those attribute lists - if I'm praying for a faceless spouse, I'm guilty of reducing any future partner to the sum of their offerings. A vending machine with good shoulders - and nice hair, dry sense of humour and a passion for acoustic guitar and social justice, obviously.

What about connection - about finding a best friend, going on an adventure and seeking Jesus together? What about maybe never meeting that person - and that being, well, okay?

If we obsess about finding a husband, then we're not really looking for a person at all, but rather another check mark against an unending list of "things that will make us happy". It's similar to the way I so often look to Jesus as a means to get what I want rather than the subject of my desire, himself.

Marriage is excellent. Singleness is brilliant. Maybe we should stop worrying about when or if that someone will show up, and start enjoying the season we're in. That's a sermon I could get behind.

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10 Bible verses for when you feel afraid

From "Life" section

We all go through times when we feel afraid; whether it's anxiety about the future, or real fear about a certain situation. Here are ten Bible verses to remind you that God is faithful, whatever our circumstances.

Joshua 1.9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Isaiah 43.2: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

Ephesians 6.13-15: "Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace."

Exodus 14.14: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Psalm 23.6: "Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

2 Corinthians 12.9: "But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Hebrews 12.28: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe."

1 Thessalonians 5.24: "The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it."

John 14.27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

1 John 4.18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

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Make Poverty History: A decade on, has it made a difference?

From "Society" section

Ten years ago, almost a quarter of a million people marched in Edinburgh under the banner Make Poverty History. Around 8 million people wore the famous white wristband which came to symbolise the campaign and some 444,000 emailed Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was the largest anti-poverty movement the UK had ever seen, bringing together numerous NGOs, faith groups and organisations in the hope of ending structural injustices around the world.

The Make Poverty History campaign has been credited with putting unparalleled pressure on governments to take action, focusing on trade justice, dropping unpayable debts and offering more aid to some of the world's poorest nations. G8 leaders meeting in Scotland responded by committing to cancel a number of debts and pledged to increase aid by $50 billion each year by 2010.

Oxfam, one of the NGOs spearheading the campaign, said it "demonstrated that ordinary people can push leaders to show ambition to address extreme poverty when they come together to demand action".

A decade on, however, and poverty is evidently still an issue across the world. Extreme poverty has declined significantly - according to the World Bank, the number of people classified as extremely poor fell from 1.25 billion to 1 billion between 2008 and 2011, and the UN says that the target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline set in 2000. However, with at least a billion people still living in extreme poverty, did the Make Poverty History campaign really make a difference?

"It achieved a lot of good things that we want to continue and carry forward," says Paul Cook, Tearfund's advocacy director. Tearfund was one of the founding members of the campaign and became a key player in mobilising people to get involved.

Cook says 2005 offered a "real alignment of opportunity" for the campaign to take off. The G8 was being held in Gleneagles, and the UK had the presidency of the EU. There was a five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals and Jubilee debt cancellation, and the World Trade Organisation was also holding talks. "The NGOs got together and thought ‘How do we make the most out of this?'" he says.

Though poverty has by no means been eliminated, "we've seen real changes", Cook told Christian Today. "There was a real, lasting legacy."

He believes that having so many NGOs and other organisations working for the same goal and "pulling in the same direction" was a key part of the campaign's appeal and that having a single, big vision for people to get behind proved vital.

"In 1975 the proportion of the world living in extreme poverty was over 50 per cent, and it's now just over 20 per cent," he says. "That's incredible progress, and a lot of that has gone on as a result of the changes implemented through the Make Poverty History campaign. There has really been significant change.

"The reality is that nations are going through a development process," he added. "The pure fact is that there has been a phenomenal change in poverty, and all the UN statistics back that up and demonstrate that. That should be celebrated."

Martin Drewry, previously head of campaigns at Christians Aid - another founding organisation of Make Poverty History - is now director at Health Poverty Action. He agrees that the movement sparked something powerful, but says that there's a feeling that governments were "let off too lightly".

"At Christian Aid, we always felt frustrated that we weren't being radical enough," he says. "When Jesus went into the temple he didn't start a charity fundraiser, he turned the tables ... While great things happened as a result of the pressure of that year [2005], I still think we should have been focused on unjust trading, and the fundamental causes of poverty, rather than aid."

Drewry points to the failure of some of the G8 leaders to keep their promises and believes that more focus should have been placed on single issues such as trade injustice rather than "poverty" as a whole. "It's not just about scale and volume," he explains. "It also requires commitment to looking in detail at the structural causes and the power relations that are causing such poverty.

"Make Poverty History lumped every single cause of poverty together, and so all people heard was one message - simply give money ... [It] focused too heavily on the shallow masses - ‘we can end poverty if you send this text to the government and give loads of money' - but it's nothing like that."

Instead, we should be championing long-term commitment to ending the systemic causes of poverty, Drewry says. "Real change isn't necessarily from those big high profile moments ... they can excite and inspire people, but if it's just a big moment, any politician or decision maker knows that the moment will pass.

"You might think you're helping to end poverty by watching Live Aid, but you're not ... We will end poverty by organising with people, campaigning locally, taking messages to our churches and creating sustained pressure."

The struggle to make poverty history is therefore ongoing, "but I do believe it's a struggle that one day will be won", Drewry says.

"Just as we look back at some of the horrors of our past, I do believe that one day we will look back and be outraged, horrified and astounded that there was such massive poverty ... [but] the calling for people of faith is that this is a lifelong commitment, that sometimes requires real courage, passion and sacrifice, and that's absolutely ongoing."

Paul Cook agrees that there is a need to build on the legacy of Make Poverty History to keep the momentum going. "Looking at the past 10 years, the world has changed quite a bit. This was pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter, and before smartphones," he explains. "In lots of ways tactics have evolved and they need to - the internet provides a huge opportunity to reach more people through online technology and there's a challenge in how to translate that into offline activity."

"Clicktivism" - the idea that people feel that they have contributed to a campaign by "liking" it on Facebook or similar, while failing to actually do anything beyond that - can raise awareness, "but it doesn't show the government how seriously people care about things", Cook says.

Make Poverty History was powerful because it encouraged people to actually turn up and do something, but if projections that up to a billion people could still be extremely poor in 2030 prove true, then it wasn't enough.

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Here's how persecuted Christians could print their own Bibles

From "World" section

Persecuted Christians unable to access the Bible could soon be able to print their own with a new program facilitated by Wycliffe Associates.

Digital printing systems provided by the US-based organisation will allow those in countries hostile to Christianity to publish the text in their own language. They will be given a computer, printer, binder, laminator and paper cutter, and trained to operate the system set up in a safe house.

It could be life-changing for those struggling to live out their faith, said Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates.

"Christians are persecuted, arrested, hunted down, and may lose their lives for translating the Bible. Wycliffe Associates provides the most effective technology and equipment to empower national translators in this life-changing work - especially when it means keeping translators safe in the most dangerous areas imaginable."

The program aims to create ways by which the Bible can be hand-carried and distributed discreetly. "Even in a hostile nation where it is life-threatening to follow Christ, Print On Demand will allow Bible printing and distribution to proceed," Smith explained.

"A group of believers secretly meeting in a closed country are already asking us for one of these systems. I am deeply committed to helping national believers share God's Word, while doing everything we can to protect them. Now, with Print On Demand, God's Word is available in increasing measures."

The system has already been installed in a community in West Africa, Smith added, and hundreds of copies of Hosea, Amos, Haggai and the Gospel of Luke have been printed in a newly translated language.

Wycliffe Associates is hoping to raise $225,000 to provide 15 systems. "Right now, we have the opportunity to provide a remarkable resource for printing and distributing God's Word," Smith said.

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