CHRISTIAN TODAY DIGEST - AUTUMN 2008

[This magazine has been jointly edited by CHRISTIAN TODAY and Torch Trust for the Blind. All the articles were first published on the CHRISTIAN TODAY website christiantoday.com over the last three months.]

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, UK
Telephone: +44 (0)1858 438260, Fax: +44 (0)1858 438275
email: info@torchtrust.org website:www.torchtrust.org
Registered Charity Number 1095904.

Contents

Welcome!

Welcome to this autumn issue of Christian Today Digest. We trust you have enjoyed a good summer - despite the rain! - and that you are ready for another selection of news of what God and His people are doing in different countries. We thank you for the many appreciative comments we receive, and are so pleased the magazine is proving inspiring, informative, encouraging and challenging. Remember: it is now available on audio CD.

Another new resource is the NIV Bible in braille. The whole Bible is now available from the RNIB.

Have you any plans for Christmas yet? This year we are running a bigger Christmas houseparty - at the High Leigh Christian Conference Centre. The Centre is built around a beautiful country house near Hoddesdon in rural Hertfordshire. If you are interested, contact Gail on 01273 832282 or email: GailM@torchtrust.org.

If you do not receive Torch Family News, you may not have heard about our new look Thanksgiving Celebration. This is on Saturday, October 25th, 11 am till 4 pm. After coffee at 11 am there's an informal time of singing, news and chat hosted by blind pianist Peter Jackson. Running in parallel are three workshop sessions: one for Torch Fellowship Group leaders with David Palmer, one for volunteers involved in our literature work with Lydia Tebbutt and others, and one for those who get involved with our international outreach led by Janet Stafford.

A light lunch will be provided, then at 2 pm we shall all get together to give thanks to God for His goodness to us over this, our 49th year. This time will include testimonies, music from the Torch singers, and a look ahead into 2009. We finish with tea and cakes at 3:30 pm.

The venue is St Peter's Baptist Church, Worcester, WR5 3TZ.

Directions: Exit M5 at Junction 7 towards Worcester. Left at first roundabout onto A4440 named Crookbarrow Way. At next roundabout turn right into St Peter's Drive. Follow the road round until you see St Peter's church on your left. [If you find problems locating the address with a Sat Nav, try WR5 3TA.]

We pray the Lord will bless you as you read this magazine.

Jill and the editors.

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92-year-old drives length of UK

Most people dream of an easy life when they get old. But one 92-year-old Sheffield man is gearing up to drive the length of the UK in his old Ford Sierra to raise some much needed funds for the homeless in Sierra Leone.

Missionary, Alex Paterson, plans to drive from his Woodhouse home to the starting point in John O'Groats, and will then motor the 830 miles to Land's End before embarking on the return journey home. He is aiming to cover the total 1,740 miles in fewer than five days. Mr Paterson regularly visits Sierra Leone as part of a missionary group that helps feed the homeless and disabled in the African country.

He explained: "When we first went there, we found homeless people in wheelchairs begging at the bus station in Freetown. The homeless in Sierra Leone aren't people who've just had enough of where they live and leave, they have lost their home and their families during the civil war and have nothing."

Tens of thousands of people died during the 11-year war that started in 1991 and, according to the CIA, two million people were forced from their homes. Mr Paterson said that there were people working in the country from the House of Jesus for the Disabled to feed the homeless and disabled. But he warned that the desperate situation was likely to worsen because funds were beginning to dry up.

He said: "Unless we get cash, we will struggle with a project to buy a farm so that the homeless and disabled can grow their own food and become self-sufficient. So I just knew I had to do something about it to try and raise some money, because we do need a lot of it."

Mr Paterson, who plans to re-sit his Institute of Advanced Motorists certificate, decided to use his 20-year-old Sierra to drive the length of Britain. He will set off from Sheffield on September 9 in his 228,000-mile Ford, which he has owned since new.

"I'll be driving on my own," he explained. "I've had the car since February 1988 and I've never had a spot of bother with it in all that time."

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Bible Society challenges churches

Bible Society is challenging Christians to put the credit crunch aside and re-discover the Bible's treasures on this year's Bible Sunday.

Christians can use Bible Sunday, on 26th October, to invest the Bible's assets in their lives, share them with people around them, and bring its transforming message to those still waiting to hear it. This year's theme is Buried Treasure?, which is based on Psalm 119. Young and old are invited to unearth the riches of the Bible in order to know God better and live his way.

Creative and inspiring free resources have been put together by Bible Society to help create an engaging and memorable experience, including youth resources, a drama sketch and an inspiring DVD.

Although Bible Sunday officially takes place on 26th October, churches can celebrate on any Sunday.

Bible Society is also encouraging Christians to take part in Bible Monday - Bible Society's Bring Your Bible to Work Day - the Monday immediately after Bible Sunday. The aim is to demonstrate that Christians can make God's Word part of everyday life by taking its message with them to the workplace.

"These days, people can have Moses on their Motorola, listen to God on their iPod, read Matthew instead of the 'Metro' or look up Isaiah on the internet. The Bible's treasures are there waiting to be discovered and there are many opportunities to do so," said Beth Read, Bible Society's Churches Development Officer. "On Bible Sunday we unearth the Bible's message for ourselves, so on Bible Monday we can make it a part of our busy lives and help others encounter it too."

Christians are also being invited to help young people access the Bible. This year, Bible Sunday gifts will provide Bibles for young people, like those featured in the Jamaica's Sidewalk Sunday Schools, highlighted in the accompanying DVD.

Bible Society exists to make God's Word heard, by connecting it with everyday life and giving people around the world access to its life-changing message.

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GCSE Religious Education

One week after the Church of England announced an increase in entrants to A-level Religious Education, the Church is again celebrating as even more students opt for GCSE-level RE.

This year, 8,016 students will enter GCSE RE, 4.7 per cent more than last year. The figures, announced on Thursday, mark a year on year rise in GCSE-level entrants over the past decade. They also show that this year 1,265 more students took short-course GCSE RE than last year.

The Church of England's Head of School Improvement, Nick McKemey, believes the rise is a sign that students appreciate the important role that religion plays in modern society.

"This further increase is evidence that more and more young people are fascinated by what they and others believe, and that they can see that the world is more fully understood by seeing past the various secularist claims that religion is mad, bad or extinct," he said. "Overall this year's GCSE results strongly suggest that schools - particularly church schools - that work hard to raise the attainment of pupils of all abilities and backgrounds are achieving the greatest success at GCSE."

The Church of England announced last week that the number of A-level RE students has risen each year for the last five years. In 2007-2008, 20,100 students took the A-level RE full course.

"These figures present a significant challenge to those who would present modern society as wholly secular," said McKemey.

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Fresh vision for Asia

Taking the gospel to the unreached is the greatest challenge facing the church in Asia, the Rev Godfrey Yogarajah told delegates at the recent General Assembly of the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia.

"We need a fresh vision for Asia in the 21st century - for each of our beloved nations that are made up of individuals, families, communities and a mosaic of races, language, religious traditions and cultures, a vision that is born out of the biblical world view and honours Jesus Christ, Lord of our nations and Asia," said Yogarajah, whose seven-year stretch as EFA's General Secretary came to an end at the General Assembly held in New Delhi in August.

He outlined some of the challenges facing the church in Asia at present, including the continent's huge head count - Asia is home to 61 per cent of the world's population and 83 per cent of the world's non-Christian population. "Hence the un-reached peoples groups is the greatest challenge to the church here," he said.

Poverty and the widening gulf between rich and poor, global food shortages, rampant materialism side by side with abject poverty, natural disasters, political and cultural nationalism, war and armed conflict, religious fundamentalism and persecution are other hindrances to the expansion of the Asian church, added Yogarajah.

"Today there is an increasing number of natural disasters, like tsunami, cyclones, earthquakes and the call to rebuild and restore these nations, the church in Asia cannot ignore. Then there is chaos in South and East Asia due to military rule, war in countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, resulting in thousands of lost lives and destitution," he explained.

Turning to the issue of persecution, Yogarajah said, "Christians have been persecuted more in this century than in all previous centuries put together. One's patriotism is determined by one's religious identity and this must be countered."

Also during the General Assembly early this month, the 16 national member fellowships agreed to re-name the EFA the Asia Evangelical Alliance and installed the Rev Richard Howell, head of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, as its new General Secretary.

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The time for healthy church in China

With rapid social change, greater freedom and more young people than ever embracing Christianity, now is the time to work towards a healthy church in China, says one Christian leader.

In a letter to supporters, the General Secretary of the Langham Foundation Hong Kong, Victor Sun, said that the church in China was thriving in the new age of economic and social development. He added, however, that the growth of Christianity was coupled with a "severe lack" of pastors and Bible teachers in China today.

"There are too few seminaries to keep pace with the staggering growth of believers. This is where John Stott Ministries - Langham Partnership International through the Langham Foundation in Hong Kong - can contribute to building a healthy church in China," he said.

There are currently 10 Chinese Langham scholars. The Langham Foundation, meanwhile, is helping to stock the libraries of a number of seminaries and universities in China with evangelical books. Langham, which is a John Stott ministry, will hold its first preaching seminar for China mainland pastors in September.

Sun welcomed the opportunities for Christian fellowship and engagement brought by the Beijing Olympics, saying that local churches had made the most of the Olympics by hosting special cultural and musical shows.

By hosting the Beijing Olympics, "China," he said, "is not only showing her best face to the world, she is also sending out a clear message that the country is ready to take her rightful place in the family of nations after re-emerging as [a] global economic giant. One day we hope to see that the church in China can become a blessing to the nation and the world."

The Beijing Olympics team was a resounding success for Team GB, who won 47 medals in total, making it Great Britain's most successful Olympics in more than 100 years.

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Greater than gold

At every Olympic Games since 1984, the Evening with the Stars evangelistic event has rallied Christian competitors, spectators and locals in an act of Christian witness to celebrate the ultimate victor: Jesus Christ.

Dr Sam Mings founded the initiative nearly 25 years ago at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. At this year's Olympics in Beijing, China, led the outreach initiative, RT2008BM (Right Track 2008 Beijing Mission), in what was his seventh Olympics outreach.

Each year, Christians in the host city play a vital role in putting the event together and so the tradition continued in Beijing, where expats who church the Beijing International Christian Fellowship were key organisers of the main event, the More Than Gold Evening with the Stars. The event took place within wider evangelistic efforts over the Olympics under the clarion banner, "What we're about is worth more than gold".

The outreach event and service was joined by one of the greatest Olympians of the century, US sprinter and committed Christian, Carl Lewis, when it took place at Beijing's 1,800 capacity 21st Century theatre on Sunday 17th August.

At a time when persecution watchdogs were warning of greater persecution over the period of the Olympics, a huge banner promoting the RT2008BM event draped the front of the theatre, located in the heart of downtown Beijing.

"To organise such an evangelistic rally within the midst of an Olympic festival, to arrange for athletes to come and speak in the middle of their contests, to prepare the promotional materials, advertising paraphernalia and to motivate the local Christian community to get on board, is a marvel beyond words," said Mark Tronson, Baptist minister and International Prayer Network director for RT2008BM.

Dr Mings and Tronson expected that the turnout of athletes and locals would surpass any previous outreach event in an Olympic host city.

"This will be incredibly significant in China, a communist country; something like this has simply never previously been dreamed of," said Dr Mings prior to the event. "The Olympians sharing their 'power and inspiration source' must be unprecedented. Even more impressive is that the message will go out from the host city to the world. The situation is unparalleled."

Said Tronson, "This is what has been achieved since 1984. Each host city's evangelical community has mobilised behind this remarkable outreach."

The Beijing International Christian Fellowship serves as a worship centre for expats, with members from no less than 70 nations. Its international make-up is the basis for its permission from authorities to function openly as a Christian church in China, where religious freedom is curtailed by the communist government.

"Once again the Lord had established a situation whereby the RT2008BM might function during the Beijing Olympics," noted Mark.

The Evening with the Stars event kicked off with a Parade of the Stars, in which the Christian Olympians were greeted by Carl Lewis, Dr Mings and the pastor of the Beijing International Christian Fellowship, Jon Davis. For Dr Mings, though, the stars were there for one purpose and one purpose only.

"It will be a historic moment to remember forever in the glorifying of the Lord Jesus Christ."

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Climate-concerned clergy cycle to Downing Street

Clergy from the Diocese of Oxford recently cycled to Downing Street to deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures in support of more government action on climate change.

The petition, compiled by relief and development agency, Tearfund, urges Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to do everything he can to secure a strong Climate Change Bill. The group of clergy included the Team Vicar of Langley Parish, the Rev Robin Grayson, the Vicar of Iver, the Rev Tim Eady, and Associate Clergy of Iver and the Rev Brian Griffiths. The petition was delivered to Downing Street as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Campaign, a coalition of leading NGOs campaigning for greater government commitment to climate change that includes A Rocha, Christian Aid, the Church of Scotland, MRDF, Tearfund, and SPEAK.

Development agencies are calling on the Government to ensure that the Climate Change Bill includes targets that will benefit poor communities already feeling the effect of climate change.

Campaigns Manager at Tearfund, Ben Niblett, said, "That means a target of 80% cut in emissions by 2050, including the UK's share of the international aviation and shipping industries. These petitions represent a strong groundswell from the church in the UK that the Climate Change Bill must be tougher."

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Love God as never before

Church leaders joining in the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this month were left with a sobering reminder of the world's woes and the difficult task they have at hand in carrying God's calling. They were asked if they could fully yield to God as one of the most famous humanitarian figures in history, Jesus, had done.

More than 50,000 leaders stood up at the conclusion of the two-day annual summit, hosted by the Willow Creek Association, repeating some of the proverbs Mother Teresa had lived by for over four decades in her life.

"God, I yield myself fully to you," they said. "I will do your bidding without delay. I will refuse you nothing ... I will seek to love You as You have never been loved before. Here am I, send me."

After studying for months about Mother Teresa, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, painted a powerful picture of the "pint-sized" Catholic nun, who had given herself fully to God even during periods when she could not feel God's presence.

"Even though I don't feel His presence, I will seek to love Him as he has never been loved," Hybels quoted her as saying.

The megachurch leader admitted that such words were "foreign" to his spirituality. Noting that no one has affected him more deeply than Mother Teresa, he said the entire summit was worth it for him just to do the research on this woman.

"Are you lighting up the radar screen in heaven by your yieldedness?" Hybels asked. "If you were God for a day, would you pick you?"

Although it may seem nearly impossible to many to see another figure like Mother Teresa come along in history and make an impact the way she did, Hybels reminded the leaders that God continues to search for a yielded heart and that He has planned something greater for this generation.

"Greater things have yet to come", the thousands of leaders sang, following Hybels' talk.

The 13th annual Leadership Summit was broadcast live from August 7th to 8th to 123 locations in North America and will be videocast to an additional 108 cities worldwide in October and November. The summit is dubbed one of the world's premier leadership training events and draws world-class speakers from a variety of sectors.

In 2006 and 2007, the conference featured former US President, Jimmy Carter, former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and U2 frontman, Bono, in its speaker line-up. Hybels acknowledged that many people carried doubts about this year's conference because of the lackluster line-up compared to previous years. But many affirmed with applause that they had not been disappointed this year.

Among Friday's speakers were Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch.tv, Catherine Rohr of Prison Entrepreneurship Program and Brad Anderson, who heads Best Buy.

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More than "easy Christianity"

by James Clarke

It was there, squatted over a hole in the ceramic tiles of Mumbai railway station, that I realised I'd run out of Kleenex; and that I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather be. It was my first ever mission trip, and I was about as far from my comfortable British upbringing as you could conceive.

When I left school, I desperately wanted to go into acting. "Oh no," my parents protested. "You'll always be broke. You'll never be in work or have a regular income; you won't be able to support a family, or get a house, or a car; and you'll barely be able to eat." They got their way. Parents always seem to get their way.

So instead of acting in the West End, that year I found myself in West Bengal, India - teaching in a school for children living on the streets of Calcutta. It was my first experience of what we call "mission", and there was something about it. Something attractive and addictive in sharing the love of God and bringing his Good News to a hurting world.

Maybe it was the rawness of the experience. Sleeping on little more than wooden frames, shaking the freezing water from shower heads, donning the dirty clothes I lived and worked in, and enduring plate after plate of wet, lukewarm rice was strangely exhilarating.

I may have been living life at a basic level, but I was living! There was something about leaving behind luxuries and home comforts that made me feel freer than I ever had felt at home; and I loved every second of it! Just walking down the road was exciting, while crossing it was a life-and-death experience; and day-to-day tasks were an adventure and a challenge. And I caught the bug.

But it was hard work. I was often tired, ill and uncomfortable; I lost weight, I craved things from home, and I went right from elation to anger frequently, on a spectrum of emotions. It was tough. This kind of mission was the most challenging thing I'd ever attempted, but in every way I was rewarded by God for pushing myself to do it. I had never had to rely on God so much, and I never saw God's power and intervention as much as I did that year. Every day was incredible.

At the end of the year I went back home to my parents, declaring that I wanted to be involved full-time in mission in the future. My parents were delighted! But I thought, "I'll always be broke and not have a regular income, won't have a posh house or car, and I may not eat properly!" Strangely, this didn't bother my parents anymore, and I found myself led by God to start on a mission-soaked path that has brought me to where I am today: the UK National Motivator for the upcoming Mission-Net event.

Ever since I caught the mission bug, I've been eager to see as many people as possible venture out to change our world in a similar way. This is why it's incredible to be able to play such an exciting role in giving people the opportunity to do just that.

Mission-Net is a huge pan-European event scheduled for 8-13 April 2009, which is going to bring together 16-30 year-olds from all across Europe to meet in Germany over Easter, to worship God and explore what He is doing across our continent. With a dedicated programme focussing on how to make mission a reality, it's the perfect place for young people to get inspired about getting their hands dirty and mucking in with God's real, life-transforming work in Europe.

But this isn't your average listen, learn and leave conference. With Mission-Net, young people won't just sit there and think about what mission is; they'll be inspired to actually get stuck in, and join any one of scores of mission teams that will go all across Europe to stretch them, push them, challenge them and give them an adventure that will absolutely revolutionise their life, just as it did for me.

If you've ever wanted to see your young people's lives changed, this is exactly the place to start. There's nothing quite like getting a vision for God's mission along with 6000 other people! This is where they can really take up the challenge of proving to God and to themselves that He is worth the sacrifice, the hardship and discomfort of giving up easy Christianity to do something courageous and daring. My first experience of mission was the most testing adventure I'd ever had; but it changed my life. Let Mission-Net be the first step in an adventure that will take them - and you - places you never expected to go.

[James Clarke is the UK National Motivator of Mission-Net 09.]

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US presidential hopefuls talk about faith

US presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and John McCain, did their best to win the approval of millions of Christian voters when they opened up about their faith and positions on hot button issues at a civil forum on Saturday 16 August hosted by Purpose Driven pastor, Rick Warren. The forum, held at Warren's Saddleback Church in California, brought the two candidates to the same stage for the first time since they secured the nomination from their parties.

First up for questions from Warren was Democratic candidate, Obama, who reaffirmed that marriage was a "sacred union" between a man and a woman but also defended his support for civil unions between same-sex couples.

"I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I can afford those civil rights to others even if I have a different perspective," Obama said.

Republican nominee, McCain, stressed his support for "the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman", saying he opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriages in some states.

"That doesn't mean people can't enter into legal agreements - nor that they don't have the right of all citizens," he added.

The two candidates took questions from Warren for one hour each, but were not allowed to listen in on each other's interview during the forum, which was televised across the US and broadcast worldwide via the internet. During the interviews, Obama was more open about his personal faith than Episcopalian-turned-Baptist McCain, whose reticence on the subject has jeopardised his support among Christian voters looking for a candidate who is prepared to speak up for Christian values in the face of encroaching secularism and liberalism.

When asked by Warren what being Christian meant to him, Obama quoted Micah's command to "walk humbly with your God".

"I know that I don't walk alone, and I know that if I can get myself out of the way, that I can maybe carry out in some small way what He intends," he said.

He said that one of America's greatest moral failures lay in not doing enough to support people on the margins. "We still don't abide by that basic precept of Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me," Obama told the mega-church pastor.

Answering the same question later on, McCain said that America's greatest moral failure lay in citizens failing to "devote ourselves to causes greater than our self-interests".

When Warren asked McCain what it meant to him to be a Christian, the Republican candidate answered, "It means I'm saved and forgiven."

The two candidates differed most notably on the abortion issue. Obama stressed his commitment to choice and upholding the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court ruling in favour of abortion. "I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade." He added, however, that he would remain committed to cutting the number of late-term abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

McCain, meanwhile, won applause from the packed church when he said: "I will be a pro-life president and this presidency will have pro-life policies. That is my commitment to you."

Obama and McCain met briefly on stage, shaking hands and sharing a quick hug.

Christians are a crucial voting bloc in the US, making up around 25 per cent of the voting population.

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Philippine Military nurses taught to heal body and spirit

Military nurses in the Philippines have been dispatched to military hospitals across the country to bring physical and spiritual healing to wounded soldiers. A recent three-day Haggai Leadership for Evangelism seminar focused on motivating and equipping the 38 nurses for evangelism in their respective hospitals.

Seminar leader Eugene Guzon, National Director for Philippines Worldwide Church of God (WCG), reminded nurses that their main objective was to offer compassion as well as professional care to wounded soldiers. Following the leadership principles of Jesus, Guzon encouraged the nurses to have a real desire for soldiers to get better and to help them maintain healthy lifestyles. This was only possible, he said, if nurses and soldiers learned to live purpose-driven lives.

He also introduced the concept of small groups as a means of reaching new people with the gospel in a way that is relational and non-threatening. Nurses were encouraged to become contemporary Florence Nightingales, caring for wounded soldiers with the same dedication as the 19th century nurse who went against the wishes of her family and the social customs of her time to serve soldiers in the Crimea War.

Guzon charged the nurses to be the instruments of God in communicating the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. Any soldier who embraces the Good News will, he said, never fear death but rather be able to live life with optimism and courage.

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The "Purple Book"

The Purple Book is proving to be a strategic weapon in the battle for a million souls in Baja California, Mexico, a ministry said.

After just a little more than a year, Baja Christian Ministries' Purple Book Discipleship Programme has graduated about 2,300 people with more than 9,500 currently participating in the programme. Organisers say their campaign to disciple one million people in the Mexican state of Baja California within 20 years using the Purple Book is going better than expected.

"It's working. It's actually working and it's actually growing by leaps and bounds," David Angulo, BCM director of the Purple Book programme, told The Christian Post.

Angulo, who is currently living in Baja California to oversee the campaign, said the Purple Book programme has taken a "life of its own" and pastors are volunteering to introduce it to their congregation.

"When you get down to the nitty-gritty it's warfare for souls that are living in darkness," Angulo said, offering a mental picture. "Picture a superpower in the sense of funding, and you have allies that are brothers in Christ in another country. What we're basically doing is supplying all these guerilla warfares with the tools they need to wage war on the battle for souls. We picture ourselves as gun runners for the Lord," Angulo joked.

In Mexico, there is little Christian education in churches so most people have not had a chance to be discipled. Studies have even shown some Mexican pastors have less knowledge of the Bible than the average church-going Christian in the likes of the US.

"I am just supplying for the troops out here," the Purple Book director said. "Basically we're just putting tools in their hands and they're going out there and facing the enemy in their daily lives with these tools."

Since 1992, BCM has worked in poor communities in Baja California - the peninsula located just south of the California-Mexico border - building houses and evangelising people in the area.

But it was not until 2007 that the ministry incorporated a method to account for how many people it had discipled and how close it was to its one million goal.

The Purple Book: Biblical Foundations for Building Strong Disciples, by Rice Broocks and Steve Murrell, was used as the basis for the ministry's tracking system. Each person who completed the Bible study workbook, dubbed the Purple Book because of its purple cover, was counted as one new disciple for Christ.

"It is not just a matter of leading people to the Lord and giving them a Bible," BCM founder Bob Sanders contends. "We want to actually see them grow in faith.

"This Purple Book is just the perfect tool because it engages them. It engages them in an active Bible study," he said. The book works hand-in-hand with the Bible by asking questions that readers can find the answers to in the Bible.

"It takes about 25 sermons to cover what is in this Purple Book," Sanders said, "and that's why you are [giving] a good dose of the gospel to the people through doing this book. They come out of the book knowing how to pray, knowing what it means to have faith, [and] knowing the importance of being baptised."

Sanders, a self-described evangelist, said that at many evangelism events people just raise their hands, come up to the altar, and are prayed for. But he wanted to go a step further and put a "solid biblical foundation underneath their spiritual life".

"Instead of just a thousand people raising their hands here and there - that's good too - I think people need a little more to get into what we would call the discipleship process," Sanders said.

Using the Purple Book, which some have praised as a Bible institute in a book, the ministry has been able to bring the gospel into many poor communities in Baja as well as prisons and rehab centres.

"What it is doing is allowing them to have a brand new start," Sanders said. "Again, without the Bible it is a worthless tool, but with the Bible it is giving them vital information and knowledge that they may not be able to extract themselves through their own reading of the Bible."

On average, it takes three to four months to complete the Purple Book programme. However, groups are given free reign over the amount of time to complete the workbook. Some groups have taken one year while others have finished within one month.

The passionate evangelist noted that no Christian who believes that the Bible is the foundation of faith should have a problem with the Purple Book because it does not bring in denominational doctrine, but only focuses on biblical doctrine. The age range of participants is wide, with the youngest around 10 years old and the oldest a 74-year-old woman who has completed the programme at least twice. Ministry leaders noted that the reason for the programme success besides the book itself is the "aura of accountability".

BCM staff follow through on their commitment to visit the leader of each Purple Book group once a month. Volunteer leaders, which include pastors, guide groups of 25 or more people to complete the Purple Book programme. Last year, BCM surpassed its goal of enrolling 10,000 people in the program. This year, BCM doubled the goal to 20,000 people and has already enrolled 2,000 people despite the new counting period having only begun on July 30.

"Mexico is a country that is ripe for revival," concluded Sanders, who encouraged attendees at a recent leadership conference to start seeing Tijuana (a city in Baja, California) as being one of the most holy cities in the world. "That almost seems contradictory because Tijuana has such a reputation," he acknowledged. "[But] we could end up seeing a city that has a reputation of not being so great become a very holy city because there are a lot of hungry hearts for the Word of God and we're meeting that need."

BCM is seeking prayer partners who can pray for the following needs:

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"Rolling rev" camps out to connect with parish

A Herefordshire vicar is taking a novel approach to outreach by camping out in one of the villages he is responsible for in an attempt to get to know the people better. Simon Lockett has been in charge of five churches in the area of the county known as the Golden Valley since the end of 2006.

"The parishes are quite scattered in this most rural part of Herefordshire," said Simon, "and I live in Madley, probably the most accessible of them all. But the problem for a modern day vicar is not being able to live in all the communities that he serves."

To this end, Simon has come up with a plan to spend four days in the villages of Turnastone and Vowchurch, living and working from an iconic 1972 VW Camper van. He will move in on Tuesday August 25 and return home on the Saturday ready for services on the Sunday.

"I will be packing my bike so I can visit residents in the greenest way possible and we are going to have a good old Barbeque on the Friday night to round things off," said Simon. "I will use the camper van with its 'Rolling Rev' logo as an office with mobile phone and laptop and people can also visit me and have a cup of tea."

The idea came from Simon's previous appointment as a curate in Oxfordshire. When he mentioned in passing that a vicar in rural areas needs a mobile office, his bishop at the time gave him some money towards the purchase of a camper van. Other funds followed and Simon put the plan into action. Parishioners there have recently decided to give him the camper van and so the "Rolling Rev" is on the move again.

"It's a simple way - and I hope fun way - to make contact with people," added Simon. "I hope the people like the idea and that we will all know each other better at the end."

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Sinai Desert challenge

On 18 April 2009, a band of trekkers will start their week-long Sinai Desert Challenge. Led by Bedouin guides, they will climb mountains and cross the wilderness. Their aim is to meet the challenge launched by Siloam Christian Ministries in order to raise funds for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the world.

The first person to come forward to meet this challenge is Alisdair Anderson of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. He notes that Jesus spent much time in meeting people's practical needs and views his own involvement as an extension of his faith. When he read about the challenge his immediate response was, "Yes! This is something I can do! I believe I can make a difference," says Alisdair. "By raising sponsorship for the challenge, I'm helping to fund Siloam projects around the world. Also, I want to raise awareness and encourage others to take an active part in charitable ventures, even if it means moving outside their comfort zone."

That's what Alisdair and his wife, Katherine, have been doing through numerous visits to Romania with a Christian charity, giving practical aid to needy families. As a result, several orphanages as well as a baby hospital have been extensively renovated.

Then two years ago, Alisdair spent time working in India which gave further impetus to helping others. "I was doing my computer work in my office." he said, "but just outside on the pavement, horrendous scenes were taking place. There would be people like mothers with small babies suffering terrible poverty. I just had to do something."

Returning to Britain, Alisdair and Katherine began sponsoring two girls in India through Siloam. "We have their photos on our fridge and talk about them to our own children in everyday situations. We remind them that not everybody enjoys the life we have."

Now Alisdair anticipates that his experience of heat during Romanian summers and in India is something which will help him during his arduous week in the Sinai. "Actually, I like a challenge," he said. "This trek will be special as I will be seeing some of the Bible lands firsthand. My raising the sponsorship money will involve talking to many of my secular friends and acquaintances. It should be a good conversation starter!"

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Unprecedented legacy saves BMS

The largest legacy ever to be received by the Baptist Missionary Society has allowed the group to postpone staff cutbacks for at least another 12 months. The unprecedented legacy is believed to be in the region of £750,000, although the exact figure has not been confirmed. A statement from BMS board members, the Rev David Kerrigan and Jeff Taylor, said the sum was "a wonderful answer to prayer".

They acknowledged, however, that the legacy is a temporary fix to an otherwise uncertain time for the organisation, which specialises in holistic mission in more than 40 countries around the world.

"Although a legacy is a one-off gift and not a source of regular income, it allows time to consider whether new options become available over the coming year," the statement read. "Importantly, it also enables us to step back from what previously seemed an unavoidable decision to make a number of posts redundant."

The board added that it would formally review the position in the summer of 2009.

BMS originally planned to lay off staff at its headquarters in Didcot and a number of area coordinators as it has struggled to break an average annual deficit of £300,000 for the last three years. Just one week after the announcement of staff cutbacks, the organisation received news that it was one of three Christian charities to benefit from a sizeable estate, according to Baptist Times.

Mr Kerrigan told the newspaper: "A one-off gift does not overcome the problem that we are still spending £300,000 more than our income. But it helps us to step back and find other ways in which we can close the gap."

Mark Craig, BMS Director for Communications, added that the organisation remained hopeful that its mission work could continue in spite of uncertainties. Already this week, new mission workers arrived in Africa and Latin America, he said.

"This is what BMS is about, and we are determined to resolve our financial position, to allow us to refocus all our efforts on our mission work."

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Welsh vicar celebrates musical mission at Canterbury Cathedral

A Welsh vicar, who has inspired thousands of people in his parish to take up music, will be bringing his congregation to Canterbury next month for a concert of celebration in the company of two archbishops.

Father Paul Bigmore, from the Rhondda Valley, launched Music in the Community 10 years ago in order to revive the once legendary musical heritage in his parish. He has organised concerts, recitals, master-classes and competitions to engage, entertain and educate local people.

Now the scheme is celebrating its birthday at the great Christian shrine of Canterbury Cathedral with a concert displaying young talent. It will be attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan.

During the concert, Dr Morgan will launch a hymn book, written and composed by Father Paul and illustrated by local schoolchildren. The Songs of the Pilgrim book is a Music in the Community initiative and will be distributed to congregations all over the world.

Taking part in the concert, on September 13, are the National Youth Choir for Wales, the National Youth Symphonic Brass, Wales, choristers of Canterbury Cathedral, Nicola Hughes, soprano and the choir from a Welsh primary school.

Father Paul said he was thrilled to be able to bring Cymru to Canterbury. "Music in the Community has made a positive difference to peoples' lives in the last 10 years," he said. "It involves people of all ages and abilities and addresses the needs of those who are socially excluded. It is a positive scheme for communities as it strengthens their cultural and linguistic identities and enables them to experience performances of all music. I am so proud to be accompanying people from the Rhondda to the concert in Canterbury and remain very grateful to those who have supported us in organising the concert and also the ongoing Music in the Community initiatives."

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said, "This concert celebrates the success of the first decade of a community project that has continued to bring music into the centre of local life and culture.

"The South Wales Valleys have a rich tradition of music making, much of it fostered and inspired by the churches and chapels that have been the focus of community life for generations. The Christian life is often described as a journey where we travel in heart and mind, towards a deeper knowledge of the God who draws us to Himself. It is therefore appropriate in our journey to this great Christian Shrine, to have brought with us something of our culture to celebrate and offer, in thanksgiving and praise."

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