TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44 (0)1858 438260, Fax: +44 (0)1858 438275, email:
Charity Number 1095904.



Don't Christmas preparations seem to start earlier every year! Here's a good book we're now preparing at Torch to help you with this problem: Do Nothing ... Christmas is Coming: An Advent Calendar with a difference, by Stephen Cottrell. Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. It can also be one of the most stressful. So, rather than a chocolate Advent calendar, Do Nothing: Christmas is Coming offers you an Advent countdown with a difference ... Price £5.

Another one we're getting ready for the library is called On the Way To Bethlehem, by warm and humorous writer Hilary McDowell. To encounter Christ at every level of our self-awareness, and allow him to remould body, mind and soul into his likeness, is a lifetime's journey of epic proportions and a million single steps. Advent can be the impetus for "setting forth" on such a journey, if the traveller will step out in mind and heart towards Bethlehem with new eyes, and risk the touch of the living God along the way.

And don't forget, we have Christmas cards in braille and giant print at £5 for a pack of ten, and Scripture text calendars with a verse for each day, in braille and giant print, for £2.50.

Well, that over, let's get back to what's going on here and now. We pray you'll be blessed and challenged as you read this issue.

The 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 over the last three months.

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Bible Society supports big giveaway in Ghana

The Bible Society in the UK is helping to fund the distribution of Bibles to children in Ghana.

The Bible Society of Ghana aims to give a million Bibles to children across the country by 2011. The effort has received the backing of Ghana's First Lady, Ernestina Naadu Mills, a long time supporter of Bible Society. The Society has already passed the halfway mark, with the 500,000th Bible handed out by Mrs Mills during a recent church visit.

Brian Dacre, Head of Supporter Relations at Bible Society in Swindon, said: "Funding this project has been made possible thanks to the amazing generosity of our supporters. Some 500,000 Bibles have now been given to school children who otherwise had no chance of getting one."

Schoolboy Kelvin, whose surname has been withheld, is one of the children to have received a Bible. He struggled at school in Ghana's capital Accra until he started reading his own copy of the Bible and was able to discover God who was always there to help him.

Mr Dacre said: "After reading his copy, Kelvin began asking for God's help every day and found that school was easier. It's an amazing story of how interaction with God, through the Bible, impacted on one child's life."

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Christian version of Top Trumps

Trading cards game Top Trumps has been popular among young children for decades, but a new alternative Christian version of the game has been released to help children learn more about biblical characters and values.

Children may be more used to seeing Top Trumps cards featuring Marvel super heroes, sports cars or even High School Musical characters. However, the Christian alternative, which was released earlier this year, sees cartoon versions of famous Old Testament characters such as Moses or Samson.

The 35 characters are rated in four categories - strength, obedience, times mentioned in the Bible and years BC.

In addition, the pack also contains special cards requesting the player to name all Ten Commandments, or all Ten Plagues that struck Egypt.

Testament Trumps was created by Steven Strongman. According to the Daily Express he said, "They are a bit of fun but have a serious message. I want school children to enjoy playing the game but also take on board the decent values the cards represent. A lot of youngsters are unfamiliar with the Bible and its teachings but are huge fans of Top Trumps so there was no better way of addressing that issue."

He said he had received lots of positive feedback since the cards were launched in May.

"When you make something children enjoy they pick things up much quicker. The real challenge we faced was making stories that are thousands of years old appeal to today's children. We had to find something they would identify with," he continued.

He gave the example of Delilah, who took Samson's strength by cutting off his long hair and who is pictured as a hairdresser. The Pharaoh of Egypt who enslaved God's people is a gangster.

"As well as providing a fun game, the cards can also teach children the basics of ethics and faith on a level they can understand," he said.

A spokesman for the Church of England welcomed the idea. He told the Daily Express: "Fresh interpretations like this demonstrate the durability of the Bible's greatest figures. Facing an opponent who has drawn the strength of Samson or the wisdom of Solomon will hopefully encourage new audiences to find out the whole story."

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60 new debt counselling centres

A national debt counselling charity today announced it is doubling its rate of expansion to help more people struggling in the recession, with its founder running 84 miles in 30 hours to raise the necessary funds.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP), which operates through a growing number of church-based debt counselling centres, announced the "Ultimate Challenge" as the recession pushes more and more people into unmanageable debt.

In addition to its existing 102 debt counselling centres, CAP aims to open another 60 in the next 12 months, doubling its rate of expansion and underpinning what will be the most dramatic growth the charity has witnessed in its 14 year history.

"In doubling our rate of expansion over the next year, we will be able to help an additional 3,500 people per year with our free, award-winning service," said CAP founder John Kirkby. "In such desperate times, this is a tremendous boost to all those living under the burden of unmanageable debt and I look forward to enabling more and more churches who are waiting to open centres to reach their communities."

Mr Kirkby confirmed that he would be running a total of 84 miles over a 30-hour period to help raise the necessary funds for the expansion and the ongoing work of the charity. Two colleagues will also run with him, hoping to raise more than £750,000. With over £500,000 already raised, the "Ultimate Challenge" has quickly become the charity's single biggest fundraising initiative.

Following a gift offering among employees, an unprecedented £210,000 was given and pledged in support, including proceeds from the sale of a house. Following this, the charity contacted supporters with a total of £520,000 being quickly raised through the generosity of many individuals. With £230,000 still to be raised before the target is met, however, the charity is continuing to appeal for further donations to reach its ultimate target.

"Running 84 miles over a 30-hour period seems like madness to some, but we really believe that God has placed us here for such a time as this. We can't just stand by, we have to give it our all as we are surrounded by such a massive need," said Mr Kirkby. "Whilst we are almost in shock at how generous people have been in supporting the 'Ultimate Challenge' there is still a way to go to generate the necessary funds to underline our expansion."

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Christians more resilient in recession, says charity

A Christian mental health charity has issued a stark warning against ignoring the social impact of the recession and with it, the threat of homelessness, unemployment and family break-up.

"Sociologists have characterised the recession as having three stages of impact: economic, social and inequality; we have all felt the economic effects, but we are now entering the stage of social impact," commented Rob Waller, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of Premier Mind & Soul. "With this comes the threat of homelessness, crime, unemployment and family break-up. All of these are risk factors for mental health problems and we can expect to see levels of these rise."

Mr Waller said the key to weathering the storm of social impact lay in an individual's level of resilience and that this was likely to be higher in people of faith.

"Resilience factors like a sense of humour, a good upbringing are obvious, but studies also show that having a religious faith is a key factor," he said. "Research studies have shown that faith reduces general stress, promotes health-improving behaviours, helps adaptation after trauma, recovery from substance misuse and sexual abuse and maintains a positive attitude to life."

Mr Waller said faith communities could add another level of support, with many being examples of good friendship and networking, showing mutual support and help in times of trouble.

"They can share burdens and compensate for families who are not able or willing to help," he said.

Premier Mind & Soul, who work in conjunction with Premier Christian Media, works to initiate and facilitate local support networks, empower and engage the local church, and enhance mental health services in the United Kingdom.

Mr Waller noted: "Within the UK, where Christianity is the most common religion, churches are often seen as the last place to turn. A belief that there is 'more to life than this' can help us in times of pressure - we may not feel so trapped by time, money and possessions and we may be able to hold more faith that this time we are in will not last for ever."

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A kitchen from God

A kitchen found at the roadside is now being used to raise funds for vulnerable children around the world.

Retirees, Leslie and Bill Sugden, would not describe themselves as poor but like many older people they have to live on a very limited income. They have lived for 20 years comfortably in their home in Sandgate, Folkestone, and are very happy there but in recent years Leslie has struggled with an increasingly dilapidated kitchen. A new kitchen, though, was out of their reach.

For many years Mrs Sugden has attended St Paul's church in Sandgate. There she prays for the poor and needy and has long been committed to doing what she can to raise money to support children and communities in need overseas. But on one occasion Mrs Sugden decided to pray for help for herself and she asked the Lord to assist her with her kitchen.

When four weeks later she saw a nearly new kitchen by the side of the road, Leslie knew that her prayer had been answered. Local store, Village Kitchens, were refitting their shop and had pulled out the old display set, which was still in excellent condition.

The store was happy for her to take it away so she called on her neighbours to help her. In a real show of community spirit, Mr and Mrs Sugden's neighbours pitched in and transported and fitted the kitchen for them. One friend did the plumbing, Mr Sugden did electrics and others fitted the units and appliances. The value of the kitchen was well over £3,000.

Leslie was both amazed and gratified at the generosity of those around her. She knew that the kitchen was a gift from God and that it had been given to her so that she could help others in turn. Ever since the kitchen was given to her, Leslie has held regular lunches, tea parties and dinners, has baked cakes and made jams and chutneys for sale all to raise money for charities with a focus on children and poverty.

World Emergency Relief UK has been the main beneficiary of Leslie's hard work. The charity, which works to help vulnerable and poor children across the world, noticed the regularity of Leslie's gifts and wanted to find out more.

"One of my staff spoke to Mrs Sugden on the phone when she was making a recent donation and discovered that she had raised the money through holding a tea party," said WER Chief Executive Alex Haxton. "When we checked the records we discovered that Mrs Sugden had sent in more than £2,000 over the last three years. I was moved to think of Mrs Sugden's hard work so I got in touch with her and asked if I could join her next event."

Mrs Sugden was extremely happy to hold a special dinner event at which Haxton thanked her and her husband for their work and talked about how their contributions were helping children overseas.

"When Mrs Sugden told me about the origins of her kitchen I was really amazed," said Haxton. "I absolutely agree with her that this was God's gift. The way that she is using this gift to honour Him by helping those in need shows that she is a true Christian and a wonderful person."

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Christians should not have to hide faith

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that Christians should not have to hide their faith in the workplace and stressed that the "role of religion and faith in the public square is incredibly important".

Mr Brown said in an interview with Premier Radio that he believed it was impossible for Christians to be expected to work detaching themselves from their faith beliefs, and that they should not be expected to entirely separate their faith and work.

He said, "I think it is impossible for Christians to be expected to detach themselves from their faith as they work, because when we talk about faith we are talking about what people believe in. We are talking about the values that underpin what they do. We are talking about the convictions that they have about how you can make for a better society."

The Prime Minister's comments come amid anxiety among some Christians who believe recent laws have made it more difficult for Christians to practise their faith openly. Over the past decade an escalating number of cases have emerged in which medical professionals and teachers are among the Christians to have faced the apparent suppression of their beliefs in the workplace.

Mr Brown also added to the debate following the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu's endorsement of a report claiming that the British Government's support towards religious groups was overly favouring Muslims.

The Prime Minister attempted to assuage fears among Christians that they are being sidelined in society, saying that the increasingly multi-cultural nature of British society meant that for the sake of social cohesion the Government needed to give emphasis to particular minority groups to ensure they did not feel discriminated against.

Mr Brown added: "I think it was true that a lot of laws and allocations of finance were criticised five, ten years ago. I think the issue now is that people want us to be more cohesive as a society and I think that means that the emphasis is more on integration."

The Prime Minister's comments did not directly tackle the issue of the new Equality Bill, which many Christians fear will further erode religious freedoms if passed.

In the interview the Prime Minister also confirmed that the Government would still prioritise foreign aid for those in poverty despite the current worldwide recession. Mr Brown said, "We have responsibilities to those in need and in difficulty and we cannot walk by on the other side. Our responsibilities to the poor are even more acute and obvious at a time when people are facing difficulty."

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Church Army evangelist "makes Jesus famous"

A Church Army evangelist took the opportunity to communicate the Christian message to passers-by in London's Trafalgar Square on the morning of 2nd August.

Alison Wooding prayed for fellow evangelists, friends and family during her stint on the fourth plinth in the tourist hotspot between 2am and 3am. She also used her time to publicise Church Army's Life to the Full campaign and a new interactive website Make Jesus Famous, where Christians can post suggestions and tips on how to share the gospel creatively.

"I am fascinated by the spirituality of the Desert Fathers and people who did wild and wacky things for God," she says. "In the desert and at the margins of society the Desert Fathers and Mothers, sought God - a solitary way of life that has puzzled people down the ages."

Ms Wooding told BBC Radio Sheffield she wanted to send out the message to people to sit still and just "be with God".

She added that her time on the plinth had felt like minutes rather than a whole hour and that it was remarkable how the noise - and occasional heckling - died down halfway through her prayer time.

One passerby repeatedly heckled at Ms Wooding to "do something". She told BBC Radio Sheffield: "I thought to myself, 'Thank God I'm not doing anything!'"

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Church in need of good preachers

The church needs to invest more in training preachers, according to the head of Clarion Trust International.

Speaking at the Keswick Convention in July, the Rev Stephen Gaukroger said that preachers needed to be "thoroughly biblical" but also bear in mind that "they are not giving an Old Testament lecture in a theological college".

"People's souls have to be fed - it has to be applied," he said. "On the other hand, you don't want someone to stand up with a bunch of jokes and a few applications. Why should we believe them, unless it is grounded in Scripture? So we have to have both attractive skills in communication but deep commitment to rigorous Bible teaching."

He went on to say that there were very few people as gifted in preaching as they believed themselves to be.

"We have lots of people in our churches who desperately need help in their preaching - help to be attractive, to be biblical and to be good communicators."

Rev Gaukroger said he believed there were less good preachers in churches today than 25 years ago.

"Finding someone who can hold the attention of three thousand people over an extended period of time is very difficult," he said. "But don't let anyone tell you that a speaker can't hold someone's attention for more than ten or fifteen minutes. My kids have introduced me to an alternative comedian - this guy goes onto a platform for 50 minutes, talks about life, and has people weeping with laughter. If one person can do that, I don't see why you can't do that for Jesus' sake and talk about the gospel. But it really does depend on gifting."

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Churches must make disciples

Churches in England face the "urgent task of making new disciples", says the new Bishop of Shrewsbury.

The Rev Canon Mark Rylands said the "number one priority" of churches was to demonstrate the Good News of Jesus Christ in their communities and share the faith "naturally". He said that the task of growing the church and the Kingdom was not restricted to the clergy.

"We need to continually encourage lay ministers, youth workers, church wardens and the whole people of God to set about this task," he said.

Rev Rylands said "extra red tape" had made the role of bishop more complicated but added that he aimed to "keep it simple and concentrate on the basics".

"It seems that where the parish clergy are having to become more episcopal now in overseeing more churches and helping people to discover their gifts, bishops need to become more apostolic, helping to share the faith, and make and grow new disciples," he said.

Rev Rylands said he hoped to bring his passion for rural mission to his new post and see small churches grow and make a difference.

"We have so much where we can work together in mission," he said. "We want to see God's Kingdom reign here in north Shropshire and we want the churches to be a beacon of that Kingdom. We need to concentrate on making new disciples and growing mature disciples so we can become Christians who make a difference in our communities."

Rev Rylands will be consecrated at Westminster Abbey on 28 October and installed at Lichfield Cathedral on Sunday 1 November. A service to welcome him to Shrewsbury will be held in Shrewsbury Abbey on Monday 2 November.

He succeeds the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, who has become Bishop of St Albans.

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Glasgow to Inverness walk

A Christian charity - Causeway Prospects - led a sponsored walk from Glasgow to Inverness to raise the profile of the 1.5 million people with learning disabilities living in the UK. People supported by the charity were among the walkers heading out from Drumpeller Country Park in Coatbridge, near Glasgow, earlier in August.

The Glasgow-Inverness walk ended with a celebration at Smithton Culloden Free Church in Inverness and raised £40,000 for Prospects. It was part of a series of sponsored walks led by charity worker Tony Phelps-Jones, launched in March and covering 1,000 miles across the UK.

Mr Phelps-Jones has since been joined along various stretches of the 20-mile-a-day marathon by people supported by the charity and their friends and family, in order to raise the profile of those whom the charity says are often overlooked by society.

"This walk aims to make visible people who are often invisible in our society today," he said ahead of the walk.

Mr Phelps-Jones said disabled people were pioneers in helping other churches consider how they might fully integrate people with learning disabilities into their churches and communities.

He said: "It's really about changing the world one step at a time."

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Gospel to children and prisoners in Caribbean

OM's brand new ministry ship Logos Hope has received a warm welcome in the Caribbean where crew members are currently serving the vulnerable and boosting local churches in their witness. The visit of the 12,000 ton vessel was highly anticipated after the retirement of her predecessor Logos II.

The first port of call in the region was St Vincent, where more than 40,000 people stepped on board between July 28 and August 11.

The ship boasts its own theatre and an educational book fair selling 6,000 titles as part of OM's vision to spread the Christian message of hope and provide education to those who need it.

In addition to welcoming visitors onboard, the 350 international crew members went out into the community to serve.

Outreach included performing fun and musical programmes at centres for orphans and special needs children. Other crew members headed to the island's only prison to tell the 400 inmates their testimonies about God's forgiveness.

Crew members were invited by local Christians to join in their Sunday church services, while the island's pastors received an invite to a special conference onboard the ship focussing on interdenominational cooperation and prayer.

Logos Hope launched in Denmark earlier in the year and did a full tour of the UK in May and June, welcoming 15,000 visitors onboard in London alone.

Logos Hope is due to sail next to Grenada, Trinidad and Barbados. Following the long Atlantic crossing from the UK, an appeal for funds is being made to help refill the vessel's fuel tanks.

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Jesus at the edge

At a time when many young people feel written off as hoodie-wearing troublemakers, one Christian youth worker is going the extra mile to see young people on a deprived estate in south-east London enter into a loving, saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

As estates go, Edgebury is one of the better ones. Located in the leafy suburb of Chislehurst, its streets of semi-detached and terraced houses are quiet and more or less free from graffiti and vandalism.

That said, "It's in need of some serious love," says Lyndsay Smith, the 34-year-old director of Youth for Christ Chislehurst who moved onto the Edgebury estate from Reading two years ago.

Having no centre to work from, she set about networking with local churches and, with their help, broke the ice with the Edgebury youth through small scale outreaches. It's the opening of a new youth club in the last few months, however, that has seen real victories won with the estate's young people.

"Even though I'd done work with these guys before, the main bulk of stuff has happened since we opened," says Lyndsay, who had to fight off stiff opposition from adults on the estate worried that the centre would become a magnet for badly behaved youths.

"We don't run services here yet because the kids just can't make that shift yet, but we've been able to introduce the God element to them. Bible studies have started up and we've taken them to Kensington Temple to give them an experience of church and desensitise them to church," she continued.

In the three months since it opened, The Edge has become the regular hangout for a group of around 30 boys between the ages of 12 and 18. An after-school club is also doing well in attracting many of the estate's primary school aged children. The few older girls who do come along seem for the time being to be more interested in the boys than the Bible, although Lyndsay hopes that will one day change.

"Young people need a safe place where they can be loved for who they are. A lot of the young people around here are not looked upon fondly and I think we generally stigmatise and vilify our young people," she believes.

None of the youths have had any real experience of Christianity, and with more than a third of them excluded from school and around 80 per cent of them at risk of offending or involved in the criminal justice system already, Lyndsay and her two volunteer staff have had to modify their approach to sharing the gospel.

"We tried a bit of Youth Alpha with them and we had to adapt that heavily because it is designed for more middle class children who are used to sitting down and listening, children who are ready to engage. Our kids just aren't there yet," she explains.

Wednesday night is God night, which Lyndsay, as she points to the ketchup stained carpet, can only describe as "a mix of carnage and joy all at once". There have been occasions when the boys have gone too far - when snack time descended into a bread and ketchup fight, for example. They have on the whole, though, been well behaved and have come to respect the few rules the centre has in place, mainly no swearing, no drinking, no smoking. "It's a gradual thing," Lyndsay admits.

While there are set times for open access or Bible studies, in reality The Edge has become the day in day out "go-to" for many of the Edgebury kids, particularly those kicked out of school.

When they're hungry, they help themselves to pizzas and hotdogs in the kitchen. When a fight breaks out, they run to Lyndsay to help sort it out. When fingers are cut or knees are grazed, they show up at the door asking for the plasters. When they're bored they stop by to play cards or the computer, watch some TV, or have a shot on the snooker table donated by a local church. It's not only about entertainment, she stresses, but it all helps to give the young people a space they can feel at home in.

For many of the kids, Christianity is still something of a novelty and sometimes they do make fun of the Bible or elements of the faith. To Lyndsay, however, that's part and parcel of bringing the gospel to people who have never known church.

"We're touching things that we don't like in our Christianness. The church is predominantly made up of nice Christians and we're not prepared when people are actually swearing or behaving badly," she says. "These are non-Christians. It's about us being prepared to deal with people who are messed up and to touch some really broken lives."

The approach may not be conventional, but it's resonating with the youngsters. At their last trip to Kensington Temple, 12 of them went forward at the altar call to accept Jesus into their lives. And when Lyndsay and her team went out on a limb and replaced all Friday night activities with prayer and fasting, the youths just kept showing up. Now they come regularly to be prayed for.

Most of the young people coming to the centre have not been spoken to positively, says Lyndsay, so prayer time has become an opportunity to tell the boys the good that God sees in each of them. One boy was even moved to tears when he was told after a time of prayer that God wanted him to know that he saw a different future for him than what others were seeing.

That's why for Lyndsay, teaching the gospel to the youths is as much about demonstrating God's unconditional love as it is about studying the Bible: "They are seeking love and affirmation and that's what God is. God is our heavenly Father who pours and lavishes His love upon us and that's ultimately what everyone is seeking. Most of us come to God through the fact that we're loved by the Creator of the universe and we are saying not only, 'are you loved?', but 'God has a purpose for your life'."

Lyndsay and the team take time out every now and again to chat with parents and make sure they are aware of what their children get up to at the centre. So far there have been no problems. One mother who is a nominal Christian is happy for her children to learn about the faith, while another parent has since given his life to Christ while in prison.

The last few months on the Edgebury estate have seen highs and lows, steps forward and steps backward, but Lyndsay says she is in it for the long haul. "My dream is to build church with these kids. My dream is to see them discipled and going through it with God, producing more fruit than I ever have. That's my dream and 12 people made a response. God changed the world with 12 people. If we can ground these guys in the Bible and disciple them, then there are no limits to what they can do."

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Mission aviation history hitches a ride on space shuttle

Proving that space flight is not the highest calling for a pilot, astronaut Patrick Forrester is taking a bit of missionary history onboard space shuttle "Discovery", which was scheduled for lift-off from Kennedy Space Center in the early morning hours of 25 August.

The aim of the two-week orbital mission is to equip the International Space Station.

The item comes from martyred missionary pilot Nate Saint's Piper PA-14, which is on display at the headquarters of Mission Aviation Fellowship in Nampa, Idaho.

Saint and four other missionaries were martyred on a sandbar in Ecuador on January 8, 1956, by a tribe of Waodani Indians. The incident sparked international news coverage and renewed interest in missionary service. Several of the tribesmen that killed Saint and the others were later converted to Christianity by relatives of the slain missionaries.

"Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience," said Forrester, who was born in El Paso, Texas, the year after the martyrdoms. "My deepest intent is to honour Nate Saint, the Saint family and all missionaries around the world."

The piece is from the Piper's battery box and has received approval for the flight from the NASA after conforming to strict size and weight restrictions.

Forrester, who will be making his third shuttle flight, has logged more than 4,500 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and has been with NASA 16 years. In addition to his time at NASA, he spent over 26 years as an Army aviator. Yet his dream has been to assist with the high calling of missionary aviation.

"I've always had a heart for missions," Forrester said. "When I visualise what I might do after I end my career at NASA, always in the back of my mind is going into the mission field in some way. If I could go tomorrow and be a pilot with an organisation like MAF, I think that's what I'd do."

Whether an astronaut, missionary or something else, Forrester has a simple approach to discovering what career journey people should take. "There are so many needs out there," Forrester said. "People need to figure out where their passion and their talents intersect with God's plan for the world."

Forrester heard about Saint and the other four missionary martyrs while attending a Steven Curtis Chapman concert.

"He told the story of the missionaries who had gone down and had lost their lives," Forrester recalled. "That story just fascinated me, and through that I heard of the book, 'Through Gates of Splendor'. That's when I really first understood about MAF."

Forrester asked MAF to provide a part of Saint's plane for the shuttle mission. When the mission is completed, Forrester will return the piece to MAF, providing a certificate confirming its presence on the space flight. MAF plans to display the battery box part and certificate at its headquarters.

Forrester noted that Saint "could have never imagined that we would have the opportunity to take it to a space station".

As for himself, Forrester sees missions in his career flight plan. "We are all called to serve God in some manner," Forrester said. "I have had the opportunity to participate in several short-term mission trips to Uganda, Canada, Puerto Rico and South Africa. Each time I have developed a heart for the people we served. I believe my wife and I will continue to serve in the mission field for the rest of our lives - whether it is at home or overseas, short-term or full-time."

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Orissa: Thousands still homeless

A year after the worst anti-Christian violence in India's democratic history, more than 4,000 Christians are reportedly still stuck in squalid refugee camps, too scared to return to their villages. If they return to their homes, these Christians risk death or forcible conversion to Hinduism by extremists, reported persecution watchdog Open Doors.

The government, even after one year, has failed to establish security in the north-eastern state where last fall at least 120 people were murdered, 250 churches, destroyed and over 50,000 individuals, displaced. Moreover, out of the more than 750 cases filed by Christians against Hindu attackers, only six people have been convicted in two cases.

"The situation is still bleak for Christians in Orissa," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller in a statement ahead of the one year anniversary. "Many of our brothers and sisters remain homeless. The area simmers with tension and fear that major violence could resume at any time. Christians are still being persecuted. They need your prayers."

On August 23, 2008, Hindu extremists began attacking Christians in Orissa after the murder of Hindu fundamentalist leader Laxmananda Saraswati. Maoist rebels later publicly claimed responsibility for the assassination, but the militants adamantly accused Christians of the murder. Indian church leaders have claimed that the mobs were just using the murder as an excuse to attack the minority Christian population.

The mobs burned Christian homes, shops, churches and orphanages.

In June, a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom attempted to visit India to investigate the state of religious freedom, particularly in Orissa, but was denied visas for entry.

USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan federal agency that monitors religious freedom in the world, has criticised the recent deterioration of religious freedom in India and in August placed it on its Watch List. Other countries on USCIRF's list include Afghanistan, Somalia and Cuba.

Indian political leaders, minority groups and, surprisingly, Christian leaders have rejected India being placed on the Watch List. They argued that India is a secular country with sectarian problems occurring only in a few places.

This year, India jumped from No 30 to No 22 in Open Doors' World Watch List, which ranks countries according to the severity of Christian persecution.

On Sunday, India's church leaders will commemorate the anniversary of the Orissa attacks by holding "Peace Day" which will include marches, fasting and prayer vigils.

There are an estimated 25 million Christians - about 2.3 per cent of the population - in India. The majority of India's population is Hindu.

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Rick Warren gets to work on new book

Megachurch Pastor Rick Warren is working on his next book - the follow-up to the bestselling Purpose Driven Life, which launched him to international prominence back in 2002.

"I'm in book-writing mode right now," Warren said in a broadcast to members of his church, Saddleback, last week. "I've gone back into hibernation to write the follow up to Purpose Driven Life now, eight years later. It's going to be called The Hope of the World, and my plan is to release that on Easter Sunday - our 30th anniversary - next year."

Warren first announced during the 2009 Purpose Driven Network Summit in May that he was going to take some time off soon to work on his next book, which will be about the Church and its role in today's times.

The evangelical leader asked church members last month to pray for him as he writes.

"Pray ... that God's Spirit will guide me in writing this next book just as he did with Purpose Driven Life so that it can change hundreds, thousands, and even more lives all around the world," he said.

Since its release seven years ago, The Purpose Driven Life has sold over 52 million copies and has been described as the best-selling non-fiction hardback book in history. The 2002 devotional book was also most identified in a Barna survey of American pastors and ministers as the book that was most influential on their lives and ministries.

Last year, Warren released The Purpose of Christmas, his first book since Purpose Driven Life. The 125-page gift book, which Warren called "the most evangelistic book I've ever written", hit the New York Times' list of top 5 bestselling Hardcover Advice books after two weeks on the bookshelves.

All net proceeds of The Purpose of Christmas have gone to benefit Warren's PEACE Plan - a global initiative created to mobilise millions of Christians in the fight against the five global "giants" of spiritual emptiness, self-centred leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy and lack of education.

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