Christian Today Digest – March 2015

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Christian Today Website Articles

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:

UK; World; Church; Mission; Ministries; Society; Life; Entertainment; Comment.

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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Lottery Fund boost for world’s oldest Methodist chapel

From “Church” Section

The oldest Methodist chapel in the world is to embark on a major building programme to bring it into the 21st century thanks to a massive grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The 276-year-old New Room in Bristol, founded by John Wesley, has been awarded a grant of £2.5 million. The money will be used alongside a grant of £1.4 million from the Bristol Methodist District to enable the existing facilities to be updated and the erection of a new three-storey building in its courtyard.

The ground floor of the new building will feature a shop and a café for visitors. On levels 2 and 3 there will be a large multi-media lecture and education room for up to 60 people, an extensive resource library on Methodist history, an archives room and offices.

A lift will connect the floors and the existing museum will be completely revamped to reflect John Wesley’s work in Bristol, in 18th century Britain, and around the world. The interior of the chapel, an architectural gem, will not be changed.

Rev Ward Jones, Chair of the New Room Trustees and the Bristol Methodist District, said: “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded us this significant grant. The New Room has been situated in the heart of Bristol for over 275 years and we now have the chance to look to the future in a very exciting way.

“We will be able to upgrade our current facilities so that we can properly welcome and inform visitors from the local area, from schools and colleges, and from all over the world.”

The New Room, as Wesley called it, was the starting point for the growth of the Methodist Church, which currently has 75 million members around the world.

Rev Mandy Briggs, Education and Outreach Officer, said: “Wesley’s original focus was on education and we want to develop our work in this area, as well as being a place of history and faith that the people of Bristol and beyond can explore, enjoy and treasure.

“We will be able to offer tours, workshops and talks to schools and colleges as well as events for all ages in our new education room.”

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North Korea is making the penalties for contact with the South even harsher

From “World” Section

The North Korean government under Kim Jong-Un is attempting to once again isolate North Korea from the South by imposing harsher penalties of North Koreans attempting to contact people from the other side of the border.

Human Rights Watch revealed that the North Korean government has intensified its efforts in cracking down possible defectors by increasing “government efforts to monitor, track down, and punish unauthorised phone calls.”

“After Kim Jong-Un (took power), anyone caught talking to the South is sent to political prison camps,” a woman using the pseudonym of Kim Jin-Seok told HRW.

Because of this, people who work underground to bring people to the South or connect South Koreans with relatives in the North are afraid to continue their work even with the promise of monetary compensation.

“I lost most of my contacts in North Korea and in China since 2013. It does not matter how much money you can pay or what contacts you have, many of the people I worked with are in political prison camps (kwanliso) in North Korea or going through trials if they are Chinese,” a broker told HRW.

Political prison camps in North Korea are infamous for their human rights abuse record, as well as their high death rates as prisoners are forced to work in harsh environments with minimal food intake. HRW says people who previously attempted defection were subjected to reeducation centres where the environment was less harsh than the political prison camps they are being sent to now.

HRW said rations in the political camps are so meagre that inmates suffer from “near-starvation”, and there is virtually no medical care, as well as a lack of proper housing and clothes. Regular mistreatment reportedly includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and executions.

The broker said she used to get calls from North Korea at all times of the day and talk for long periods, but now the number of calls she receives has shrunk by approximately 60 per cent since 2012.

Kim also told HRW that cellular networks no longer have signal in the cities, and that the government could have technology that allows them to locate a call even after it is hung up.

“I used to call from my living room, but later I had to go high up in the mountains in the middle of the night and I was scared to talk for more than a minute or two,” she revealed.

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Rick Warren says the best financial investments are made in people

From “Ministries” Section

The best financial investment one can make is on people and not things, American evangelical Christian pastor and author Rick Warren said.

He encouraged people to use money wisely and bring people closer to God, and he considers it the best financial investment a person can ever make.

In an article on his website, Warren quoted Bible verse Matthew 6:20-21 which said that God’s Word instructs people to store all their treasures in Heaven.

He also quoted Luke 16:9 NIV that explains, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Warren clarified, however, that Jesus did not mean for people to “buy” friends with money. “What he meant was that you should use the money God gives you to bring people to Christ. They will then be friends for eternity who will welcome you when you get to Heaven!” he said.

Self-reflection is important in order to achieve success in this endeavour, and Warren asked people to be completely honest and consider the areas they spend most of their money, and how it compares to an eternal investment. Warren also asked people what motivates them to give money or invest in other people.

The pastor then urged people to think of ways to invest their money rightly in other people, and ways they can invest their money in bringing people to Jesus. “Pray about this, and see who or what God brings to mind. No matter how small, make one investment in eternity this week,” he encouraged. “Your actions will affirm your faith.”

Warren said that the expression, “You can’t take it with you” does not apply in this scenario, because people can “send it on ahead” by investing in people who will also go to heaven in the future. By doing this, he said, they will be storing up real treasures for themselves in heaven, and that this is the only safe investment for eternity.

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Loneliness and isolation biggest social problems say clergy

From “UK” Section

Loneliness and isolation are the most widespread social problems affecting English communities, regardless of income or social class, according to a survey of nearly 2,000 clergy.

The online study of social action by Anglican churches found that social isolation was described as a major or significant problem by nearly two-thirds of Church of England clergy.

It was the only issue to be cited as a significant problem in wealthy as well as deprived communities and was more common than unemployment, homelessness and poor housing.

The survey of nearly 2,000 clergy carried out by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England also found the number of churches involved in running food banks over the last three years had doubled from a third in 2011 to two-thirds in 2014.

Paul Hackwood, executive chair of Church Urban Fund, said: “We see through our work all around this country the damage that loneliness and isolation brings to people’s lives.

“It is fantastic to see the difference that churches are making in local communities, re-building hope and growing meaningful relationships.”

Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, said the report showed that social action was deeply embedded into the mission of the Church of England.

“It is heartening to see the Church responding so impressively to a range of different needs, including social isolation and loneliness.

“We live in an increasingly individualistic and atomised society. Through fostering social networks, friendships and family life, churches help to provide the ‘glue’ that binds people together and help build stronger communities.”

The report says social action is not an optional side project for the Church but is core to its heart and mission.

As an example the report cites Father Andrew, vicar of St James’ and St Mary’s in Kilburn, who found out on Twitter that the local post office was going to close.

He knew that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for to do something that would help to put the church back at the heart of the community.

Over the following two years he negotiated for a post office to be established in his church building. The church has also opened a café, stationery shop, florist and a soft play area for young children.

He said: “We thought carefully about how we could drive footfall into the church building. We spoke to people and researched what else was going on in the area. We wanted to make sure that we could offer things that would help to bring new people through the door. A lot of people feel awkward about coming into church and so we wanted to create a space that would be welcoming and fun, to bridge the gap that often exists between churches and communities.”

The facilities opened in July 2014.

“It’s beginning to change us,” said Father Andrew. “It’s making us think about how we can be as a worshipping community in this newly renovated building. We want to retain our identity, but also to reflect our new relationship with our community. Before we made these changes, people just used to come to us for church services, so we were in control, now we have to be open to the people who come through the door for other reasons.

“I would recommend this to anybody: find something that meets a community need, then bring it into the church. It will bring in new people and it will also force your church community to respond to people who are coming to the church and just being themselves. This is a completely different and life-giving experience.”

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Singing Irish priest Father Ray Kelly talks new album, “Where I Belong”

From “Entertainment” Section

Father Ray Kelly, the Irish priest whose personalised rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went viral last spring, will release his debut album, “Where I Belong,” in the US on March 10.

The album is already a hit with fans in Ireland, Germany, and the UK, and showcases the 61-year-old’s soulful voice and passion for performing.

The 10-track project includes original and cover songs, Celtic classics, and church hymns recorded in Father Ray’s home at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church and parochial house in Oldcastle, Meath.

In an exclusive interview with Christian Today, the full-time priest discussed “Where I Belong,” Pope Saint John Paul II’s influence, and how a song by a secular artist can still touch the soul.

Christian Today: Over 39 million people have watched the video of you singing “Hallelujah” in less than a year. How have your parishioners responded to your newfound fame?

Father Ray Kelly: I suppose they’ve been very happy and excited about it really, seeing their parish leader exposed to the media and limelight. It’s unusual, but they’re very excited about it and very supportive. It’s a good story; a positive story.

CT: You’ve said that you are very much committed to remaining a priest full-time, and will continue in the ministry as you have for nearly three decades. How did Pope Saint John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in the late ’70s influence your decision to enter the priesthood?

Father Ray: John Paul came to Ireland in ’79, September 1979. Before that, for about a year or two, I was thinking about the priesthood ... it was sort of a tug of war in my head for a while about it.

The following year, in 1980, a group of us in the Catholic Youth Council traveled to Rome to meet John Paul to thank him for coming to Ireland ... He celebrated Mass with us, and then we put on a concert for him.

Times like that, looking back, that was the Spirit that was working in John Paul for me to begin studying to be a priest. Actually three or four guys in that group who went over there actually went on to become priests afterwards.

CT: “Where I Belong” includes covers of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” How do you respond to criticism that Christian artists shouldn’t sing secular songs?

Father Ray: I picked those songs because they are great songs. “Everybody Hurts,” there’s a wonderful message in it, and everyone struggles in their life from time to time. To me, that’s very, very strong, and Christian as well.

And then of course we have the Irish songs, “O Danny Boy,” “Galway Bay,” and “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears.” We knew we were going to do a launch in the U.S. eventually, and we kind of wanted to have an Irish flavor for the U.S. market.

CT: What’s it like to see Father Ray live?

Father Ray: (laughs) The live show is obviously me singing most of the time, but I do share a little of my story of where I came from before I was a priest, and about the “Hallelujah” thing, how that happened. I tell a few jokes, a few Irish jokes as well (laughs). Just sharing yourself, your personality, with people on stage, and hopefully people want that. Just being who you are.

Hopefully I will get to perform a concert in the U.S., and the album will carry the songs of God’s heart to all that will hear. That’s my wish really. A lot of the songs are prayerful as well on this album, and I hope that they will touch a chord with people. That’s the important thing for me.

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Surgeon who treats heartbreaking facial tumors on Christian hospital ship says his patients “feel trapped”

From “Mission” Section

A volunteer surgeon working for the international Christian charity Mercy Ships said that most of his patients feel “trapped behind their facial tumors” and he treats them not only by performing surgeries but also by giving them much-needed care and acceptance.

Dr. Leo Cheng is a consultant oral, maxillofacial, head and neck Surgeon at St Bartholomew’s, The Royal London and Homerton Hospitals. He will soon be volunteering his services for the third time to the Africa Mercy hospital ship, and will be bringing his wife Hilary, a Methodist minister serving at three churches in Chingford and Highams Park, to help the less fortunate.

The Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that delivers free, world-class health care services to developing countries is docked in Madagascar, where 10,000 people rely on only two physicians and three hospital beds for their medical needs.

Since he volunteered, Cheng performs around two to three surgeries a day, often on patients who will be receiving health care for the first time in their lives. They have large thyroid, head and neck tumors, or serious wounds.

“So many of the patients I meet on board are trapped behind their facial tumours and, from my experience, the healing process begins with when you just show them a bit of human contact and acceptance. Seeing the tremendous joy and happiness that overcomes the patient once their tumour or deformity is removed is such a special moment to witness,” shared Cheng.

He described his work as “electrifying”, as the staff of Mercy Ships are all united in the goal of bringing hope and healing patients. “What I have learnt from volunteering with Mercy Ships is that by ‘giving’, you receive more blessings from God. Every time I return to the ship I learn more and more from the many spiritual giants on board - all of whom are selfless and humble, and a true model of Jesus for all to follow,” he added.

Meanwhile, his wife will promote emotional and spiritual healing by serving as a chaplain for the patients on board.

The couple selflessly gave up two weeks of their annual leave to volunteer their time and skills on the Africa Mercy. What’s more, Mercy Ships volunteers actually pay to be on the ship so that all donations made to the charity go straight to patient care and maintenance of the hospital ship.

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