Christian Today Digest – May 2014

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[Items in this magazine have been selected by the editor at Christian Today. All the articles were first published on the Christian Today website: www.Christiantoday.com over the past month.]

Contents

Shepherding God’s people in war-torn communities

Where will your faith take you? All kinds of places for most people and for the Bishop of Ramsbury, to a shepherd’s hut on the Wiltshire Downs in solidarity with victims of conflict.

Bishop Ed Condry spent the night in the hut with just a few basic items, having walked there by foot from his home in Warminster.

“It was appropriate in many ways that I spent the night in a shepherd’s hut,” he said. “Bishops are called to be shepherds, serving and caring for the flock of God’s people, and hearing Sarjon’s tales underlined my duty to do just that. High up on the Downs I was reminded of our vulnerability and the need for us to stand by our fellow men and women.”

The hut was located in a remote spot south of Kingston Deverill and the night was spent in prayer and reflection before a special morning service at the nearby St Michael’s Church.

The night’s stay was in partnership with Christian Aid and follows a meeting in March with SarjonToma of Christian Aid partner organisation REACH, which works on peace-building in northern Iraq.

Bishop Condry has been inspired since the meeting to raise awareness of the reality of conflict, and the poverty and fear it brings to people’s lives. During the meeting, he heard of the suffering of Toma’s community as a result of chemical warfare, bombings, siege and violence.

The bishop said: “Despite this backdrop Sarjon was inspired from an early age to care for others in need, and he and his organisation is living out that vision in challenging circumstances. The challenge to us here in the UK is to not feel it is too distant from that vulnerability of others and to make a difference. We can, and indeed I feel we must.”

He expressed his hope for peace and reconciliation in communities experiencing war and conflict, and support for the people living in them “so that they are no longer powerless but have the tools to look to the future with hope”.

With Christian Aid Week just around the corner, Bishop Condry is encouraging people to get involved and walk alongside war-affected communities.

For more information on Christian Aid Week visit <www.caweek.org

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Finding hope in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide

Alex Nsengimana lost almost his entire family in the Rwandan genocide when he was just six years old, but years later he has found the strength to forgive those who shattered his childhood.

The genocide began on April 7 1994, after President JuvénalHabyarimana - a member of the Hutu tribe - was killed as his plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. Hutus took to the streets, slaughtering Tutsis, with whom they were engaged in an ongoing civil war, as well as moderate members of their own tribe. The killings would last 100 days, leaving around 800,000 dead, and devastating the entire Rwandan nation - which is still suffering from the tragedy today.

Alex was able to hide from the killing with his brother and sister, but their grandmother and uncle weren’t so fortunate. They were both brutally murdered in front of the young children.

The children managed to find protection with the Tutsi-majority Rwandan Patriotic Front, and were eventually put into an orphanage, which is where Alex first came to know Christ. He received a box of gifts through the Operation Christmas Child outreach programme run by Samaritan’s Purse.

Alex was adopted by an American family and moved to the States, where he has managed to find peace despite the devastation of his childhood. He says, however, that many Rwandans are still suffering from the effects of the genocide.

“The genocide left a legacy of emotional, physical and financial wounds,” he said. “The physical and financial wounds are healing more so than the emotional ones; this is what is affecting individuals and families the most 20 years later. During the genocide, instead of the churches being a safe haven for people they became slaughterhouses, because those who ran the church were part of the militias. Many people are blaming God for what happened in Rwanda.

“Our culture is a very closed and very private culture - so much so that many Rwandans don’t talk about what happened during the genocide. This process is not easy, but I believe that sharing and being open about what happened can heal unhealed wounds. Even those that people do not know they have.”

When he was asked to share his life experience, he discovered that in talking about it, he found peace: “Accepting Jesus Christ into my life helped me deal with my emotional wounds,” he explained. “I am very grateful for the many people that God used to help me in the process.”

Last year, Alex travelled to Rwanda to meet face-to-face with those who murdered his family; he offered them forgiveness, and prayed with them.

“The love of Jesus Christ and of the people around me helped me and showed me that I wanted to share that same love with others. I read in the Bible that we are all created in God’s image. I asked myself: how could a person who killed my uncle and grandmother be created in God’s image?

“In my struggles to find healing, I started to pray to God to heal me by helping me meet the people who caused me the most pain. It was the most peaceful moment of my life when I was able to meet the man who killed my uncle last year! I am thankful God answered my prayer. My healing process continues.”

Alex is passionate about helping others to find the freedom that he has experienced, and believes it is possible through a steadfast faith in God.

“It is my prayer that through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ my fellow Rwandans can be healed,” he says. “We are all on this journey together. I have seen that healing take place in the lives of many people, which gives me great hope for the others.”

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Leukemia sufferer testifies to “abundant” life in God: “He is enough”

Nathan Shroer, when growing up, didn’t feel like God was so great. He had experienced the pain of a parent spiralling into addiction and a home broken apart not once, but twice by divorce.

“I heard people talk about God and how great he was, and he didn’t seem great in my life,” Shroer shares in the latest testimonial video to be added to the “I Am Second” website (www.iamsecond.com/seconds/nathan-schroer).

Asked how he would describe growing up, he replied: “Disappointment.”

He was 22 when he applied to join the police force and although a doctor noticed his white blood count was low, he was deemed fit enough for the job.

In the course of the year, though, the Evansville Police Detective became increasingly unhappy with himself, noticing that his speech had turned bad and he was being a “jerk” to his wife.

Feeling like he wasn’t the man he was before, he picked up his Bible and brought himself before God. In an honest moment, he admitted to God that he was in a rut and didn’t know how to fix it. In return, he received a message from God he wasn’t expecting. It was: “Nathan, you have cancer. It’s ok.”

He reflects: “It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, I thought I was crazy.”

Not long after, he started to experience extreme fatigue, bleeding gums, and unexplained bruising, and in January 2004 an oncologist diagnosed him with acute myelogenousleukemia. Not only was it leukemia, it was very advanced and he started immediately on chemotherapy.

He was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and it seemed like “nothing was working”. It was three full rounds of chemo later that the leukemia went into remission but he was told he would need a stem cell transplant. He didn’t know of any siblings, and when he was added to the World Bank with five million people stored on it, it drew a blank. There was no match for him anywhere.

Unexpectedly, Nathan’s mother revealed she had had another son who had been given up for adoption because she hadn’t felt able to raise two children. He was tracked down on Father’s Day 2004 and Nathan was able to receive the transplant he needed to restore his immune system; the cancer went into remission.

However, in February 2013, bad news came again to Nathan when he was told his cancer had returned and after some time in hospital, he was told to get himself into a hospice.

He once again turned to God, broken and frustrated after nine years of fighting cancer.

He received another word from God that penetrated deeply: “You are going to die. But I am going to heal you because of the prayers of so many people. I have given you days.”

He adds: “I wasn’t mad at God, I just hurt at the situation.”

His response to God was: “Use my death in this incredible way. I don’t like it but it’s going to be ok.”

Part of the answer to that was what Nathan accomplished in the life he was able to live before his death and not a moment was wasted in serving others, including sexual abuse victims at Holly’s House, training up police officers in Moldova and Kenya, and ministering as a department chaplain and youth leader.

“God has continued to do these amazing things in my life and I attribute it to the fact that I just wanted to see if he was enough, and he showed me, he’s enough, he’s truly enough.”

When asked how to describe his life since his encounter with Christ, Nathan replied, “Abundant.”

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Jesus more popular than Mao in China?

Despite Christianity’s struggles in China, Jesus and Christianity are still far more popular on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, than Chairman Mao and Communism.

A survey by Tea Leaf Nation, a magazine run by researchers studying China’s social media trends, found that a search for “Bible” on Weibo produces over 17 million results. Searching the same site for “Quotations of Chairman Mao”, a text more commonly known in the West as the “Little Red Book” only yielded 60,000 results. The words “Christian Congregation” have over 41.8 million mentions on Weibo, but the “Communist Party” only gets 5.3 million results.

Weibo users talk about the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, far less than Jesus. The leader of the 1.35 billion people strong nation is only mentioned 4 million times on Weibo, while Jesus is mentioned more than 18 million times. “Christmas” is mentioned almost 150 million times, more than three times as often as “Chinese National Day”. Despite being an outwardly atheistic country, “God” received over 165 million Weibo mentions, more than 18 times the searches for “Mao Zedong”.

However, China’s army of over 100,000 government censors has not been completely idle. Any searches for the term “underground church” result in a message on screen that reads “results cannot be displayed due to relevant laws and regulations”.

Tea Leaf Nation puts the high interest in Christianity down to declining interest in Communist ideology and the rapid growth of the religion in China in the past few decades. Official Chinese government figures put the number of Christians in China at 25 million, but external observers with more knowledge of the underground church situation say the number is closer to around 60 to 100 million.

Reports suggest that between 3,000 and 10,000 are turning to Jesus in China every day, despite the fact that Christian persecution charity Open Doors lists China as the 37th worst persecutor of Christians globally.

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Saeed Abedini’s wife: “It’s very hard but God is holding me up and him up too”

Naghmeh Abedini is refusing to be defeatist about her husband’s imprisonment in Iran and instead says she believes they were chosen by God to be an encouragement to others going through times of trial.

Saeed Abedini, an Iranian with US citizenship, was working on an orphanage project in Iran when he was arrested in July 2012 for “threatening the national security”. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and lost his appeal earlier this year.

It has been reported that he has been beaten in prison and his health has suffered because of prolonged periods without access to medical treatment. Recently, his health began to improve after he was finally admitted to an Iranian hospital to be treated for injuries he has suffered in Rajai Shahr prison. The American Center for Law and Justice said he was suffering chronic pain in his stomach area because of numerous beatings.

Since his imprisonment, Naghmeh has not been resting on her laurels but has been proactively campaigning for his release and for the US, where she and their two children live, to do more for his release. Last December, she made an impassioned appeal to the US Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington to press Iran for his release.

“I thought I would have to fight the Iranian government. I never anticipated that I would have to battle my own government,” she told the committee. “We need to see action behind our government’s rhetoric.”

Saeed’s plight was acknowledged by US President Barack Obama in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC in February, when he called for his release and said he was praying for the pastor.

“And as we continue to work for his freedom today, again we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho,” he said.

Now, speaking in an article for the April edition of International Christian Concern’s magazine, Naghmeh reveals her continued hope in the face of a husband enduring torture and abuse in prison, and the difficult question from their two children, “when is daddy coming home?”

“God is holding me up. I can see from Saeed’s letters that God is holding him up too,” she told ICC’s president Jeff King.

In a powerful testimony, she says the time since his imprisonment has been “very hard” but adds, “spiritually, it is the best time in my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The Lord has counted our family worthy enough to send Saeed to a dark place that he would be able to share with people who are in complete despair.”

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Remembering Gaza’s “forgotten faithful”

Christian charities are undertaking a new project to help understand the lives of believers in Gaza, where the number of Christians has dropped dramatically in recent decades.

Development charity, Embrace the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem and the Gaza YMCA are working together to survey local Christians for a new report that will give fresh insight into a community that has not been officially examined for over half a century.

An unofficial census commissioned by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1993 was the last study undertaken on Christians in the region, and the most recent official census took place a staggering 47 years ago in 1967.

Increasing persecution in the Middle Eastern region in addition to unstable political structures has resulted in many believers leaving the country. Since1967, the number of Christians in Gaza is thought to have dropped from 2,305 - 0.6 per cent of the total population - to an estimated 1,500, representing less than 0.1 per cent.

There has never been, however, a comprehensive socio-economic study of the Christian community in Gaza, and charities are therefore keen to uncover more about this largely forgotten body of believers, most of whom identify with the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

“The Palestinian Christian community in Gaza is tiny but determined,” says Jeremy Moodey, chief executive of Embrace the Middle East. Media reports can sometimes be distorted and unhelpful, but for the first time in more than 50 years we are finally researching the size and make-up of the community, how it has changed since the Oslo accords of 1993 and the special challenges facing Christians in Gaza.”

Volunteers have already begun visiting Christian homes in the region to collect data which will be compiled to assess social, medical, educational and economic needs, which Embrace and its partners will then use to formulate an effective and appropriate response.

Moodey says the information gathered will be “vital” in supporting those who have chosen to stay in Gaza, despite the difficulties.

“Gaza’s Christian community is under great pressure,” he says, “both from the continued blockade of the territory by Egypt and Israel, which threatens a humanitarian catastrophe, and by the Islamist government in Gaza. We want to support this community in their presence and their witness, and this survey will be a vital building block in our own endeavours and those of our partners.”

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Lost and found: Finding peace in God after teen pregnancy and divorce

The daughter of megachurch pastor Bishop TD Jakes has released a book in which she opens up about her experiences of being a teen mother, and how her family dealt with the unexpected news.

Now in her mid-twenties, Sarah Jakes fell pregnant at the age of just 14. In an interview with Dr Phil, she shared how her father - world-renowned church leader TD Jakes of The Potter’s House, a non-denomenationalmegachurch with an estimated 30,000 members - was rendered speechless when he found out.

“I remember my parents being completely silent for a really long time. I know that may not be a big deal in most homes, but when your father speaks for a living, to render him speechless is quite a task,” she said.

Sarah, who now leads the women’s ministry at The Potter’s House, said that her parents grieved “for a very long time” but were supportive as she made the transition to motherhood and raised her child.

“I was 14 years old. No one dreams that their child will have a child at that age.” Her book, Lost and Found: Finding hope in the detours of life, expands on her journey, including her four-year marriage and subsequent divorce from former NFL player Robert Henson. She shares the grace that she has found in a loving relationship with God.

She told Good Morning Texas, “I always say that I considered finding the pieces that you gave away of yourself along the way. When I had my son at such an early age I dealt with a lot of shame and pressure and found myself in bad relationships and just giving myself away.

“As I really desired to live my life for God I found the pieces that I gave away and I learned to love myself again.”

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