CHRISTIAN TODAY DIGEST - SPRING 2011

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

Contents

Welcome

Welcome to this spring edition of Christian Today Digest! You will see from the list of contents that we have a collection of inspiring, informative, encouraging and challenging items from around the world.

With Easter not very far off by the time you receive this magazine, there's a touch of Easter egg flavour - a really enjoyable one!

We trust you will find the magazine a blessing.

Jill Ferraby and the editors.

Back to Contents

"Becoming all things" in Wales' pubs and parks

Heading a team that takes over pubs and parks, Cardiff based Pete Hodge speaks of evangelism based on biblical principles.

"We're told to become all things to all people, in order that we might win some."

Although the gospel message remains unchanged, activities vary widely. With the diversity of population throughout Wales, that can mean everything from family fun nights to curry evenings and street evangelism.

Pete Hodge serves as Wales Director for OAC Ministries (Open Air Campaigners). Yet he emphasises that OAC partners together with other societies and churches. This is especially true of the growing ministry among Welsh speaking schools. Team member Adam Colman of the Welsh Schools Initiative trained under Pete four years ago. Now taking assemblies in Welsh speaking schools has developed into a fulfilling ministry for him.

"Welsh schools are growing and so there are wonderful opportunities," explains Adam. "A one-class school will increase to two classes within a year, and then continue to expand. In Wales, there's a tradition of church going which is good. However, children may not know the reality of Christ in their lives. They need to hear the gospel in Welsh."

With his OAC training, Adam uses puppetry, drama, creative object lessons and messages accompanied by painting on a sketch board.

These imaginative approaches also serve for outreach to other age groups. Pete looks forward to a mission which will take place in the Vale of Glamorgan from 2 to 10 July. Called "Reach the Vale", it will be similar to campaigns OAC has successfully conducted in urban centres.

Pete notes, "We begin by listening to what interested churches have to say. They tell us about the sort of activities they already conduct. Then we consider how we can raise the level of evangelism to help with outreach that works in their local setting."

One church will be using an entire park to engage with people. Tent events will offer a variety of appeal. Outdoor activities can be geared to the general public with drama and lively music as well as children's activities.

Then there is the church which has booked a pub for the night. Cabaret style entertainment will include a professional Christian comedian and Pete who is well known for his creative object lessons, including escapology.

In spite of his popular illusion acts, Pete assures participants that evangelism leaders will not disappear after the mission.

"We provide training and ongoing support so that individuals and churches are equipped to carry on their increased level of outreach. That's vital to continue successful growth after the mission has ended."

Evangelical churches taking part come from a range of denominations. Also, other societies are involved. Networking is important, enabling individuals and churches to conduct outreach relevant to both their local populace and their own church ethos.

Pete explains that much of his activity consists of motivating future leaders.

"I'm preparing to pass on the baton to Steve Harris. He's a young Welshman in his mid-twenties with a passion for evangelising Wales. It's exciting to see the younger generation up and running, becoming all things to all people in strikingly different settings."

Back to Contents

Bible translation in two unreached regions

Wycliffe Associates is launching Bible translation efforts in two new areas, one of which has a Christian minority constituting 0.02 per cent of the population.

President and CEO Bruce Smith labelled the expansion "one of the most difficult efforts in Wycliffe Associates history".

He said, "The gospel cannot be openly preached in these countries. The Scriptures can't be read in public. Borders are closed, but hearts are open."

Although both regions could not be named for security reasons, one was revealed to be a predominately Muslim country with a strongly Islamic government, where Christianity is heavily restricted and believers are severely persecuted and ostracised by family members and neighbours.

"This is no easy undertaking," Smith said. "It is one we cannot, and do not, take lightly. I find myself continually pleading with God for guidance in our efforts, and for protection for Bible translators, trainers, their families, and their support teams."

Preparation to cross the two new frontiers is underway, but it may take up to 15 years before the Bible becomes available in the native language.

"It takes on average five to 15 years to complete a translation of the Bible in a language," Donn Hallman from Wycliffe Associates told The Christian Post.

Progression varies according to several factors, including the complexity of the language, the team of linguistic experts and missionaries working on the language, and relations with the host country, Hallman explained.

The interdenominational organisation partners with volunteering laymen, families, construction workers and nationals to accelerate the work of Bible translating. This is achieved by taking over various practical and time-consuming tasks allowing for free hours of translation time.

Wycliffe Associates was founded in 1967 by Bill Butler, Dale Kietzman, and Rudy Renfer, who wanted to bring God's Word "to every tongue and every heart in the world".

As part of Vision 2025, the organisation aims to start translation projects in every language still needing the Bible translated by the year 2025.

Back to Contents

Churches' good news gets into the papers

A former BBC producer is on a mission to get the church in the press for all the right reasons.

Robbie Lane, previously a producer, newsreader and journalist at BBC Radio Derby, believes too many churches are missing out on a great outreach opportunity simply because of fear or inexperience.

Some churches have been put off the press because of unpleasant experiences in the past, while others have tried and failed because they don't know how to "spot the story".

Lane is hoping to resolve both issues with the launch of his new website, www.yourchurchinthenews.org.

The website features YouTube videos and examples of good church stories that have made it into local newspapers. A step by step guide gives churches advice on how to get their events and projects into the papers for the right reasons. Lane also covers how to write a press release, tips on being interviewed, and how local churches can utilise social networking sites like Facebook.

He says: "I became increasingly frustrated at seeing negative stories about the UK church's problems when I knew that every local church in every town is doing a huge amount of positive community work. Things like soup kitchens, youth work and projects for ex-offenders all go on without anyone outside the church noticing while negative stories dominate the national press. It's not because of an 'anti-church' press. It's just because many churches don't know how to shout about what they are doing."

He decided to set up the website after helping his own church to increase its presence locally through the local media.

"We had a tremendous impact on how many people were turning up for events and on how well the church was known locally," he said. "It wasn't an overnight change but gradually the church has seen positive results."

Howard Davenport, senior pastor at Elim Pentecostal church in Yeovil, where Lane first worked, said: "When we started trying to get media coverage, we were a bit unsure of where it would lead. But we've seen amazing results and it's really helped the church to become more well-known in the town. We've had stories - like a charity boxing match, a church anniversary and an outdoor baptism - receiving fantastic coverage in the local newspaper, radio and TV. We've even been quoted in the Daily Star which not many clergy can say!"

Back to Contents

Easter egg that mentions the "J" word

Supermarkets have agreed to stock the first Easter egg to mention Jesus on the box.

Although more than 80 million Easter eggs are sold each year in Britain, it is only now that an Easter egg has been made available making any meaningful reference to the Christian festival.

Supermarkets initially refused to stock The Real Easter Egg but u-turned after a campaign backed by the Church of England's Bishop of Manchester made national headlines.

Morrison's, Waitrose, Co-op and Booths have agreed to stock a limited "trial listing" of the Real Easter Egg in their largest supermarkets.

When church schools, churches and individuals were invited to place early mail orders for the eggs last October, more than 70,000 were ordered in the first few weeks.

The eggs are retailing at £3.99 and have been developed by the Meaningful Chocolate Company with packaging that explains the meaning of Easter.

Part of the package reads: "Many believe that chocolate eggs represent the boulder that sealed his tomb."

David Marshall, of the Meaningful Chocolate Company, said: "We are delighted that our customers have made The Real Easter Egg such a success. I think we have proven that people are not afraid to buy The Real Easter Egg and we hope we have changed the face of Easter forever."

The Real Easter Egg is made from Fairtrade chocolate and part of the profits will go to charities Traidcraft and Baby Lifeline.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, said: "It is great news that for the first time people will have the chance to buy an Easter egg from a shop that explains the significance of the festival on the box. Through the charitable donation and its Fairtrade chocolate, the egg brings to light the Easter themes of hope and new life. I believe there will be widespread support for the product from the faith community with many others likely to be interested."

With demand expected to outstrip supply, Google Maps is providing the "Virtual Real Easter Egg Hunter" to help people find independent shops or churches in their area selling the Real Easter Egg. Visit http://www.realeasteregg.co.uk

Back to Contents

Evangelicals in Brazil

An international missions organisation reports that evangelicals are expected to reach 57.4 million in Brazil this year in accordance with the evangelical annual growth rate of 7.42 per cent.

Researchers at Sepal (Serving Pastors and Leaders) studied results from Brazil's Census 2000 survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics and other information from a March 2007 study conducted by Datafolha, a major domestic information firm.

Based on figures obtained from both sources, Sepal concludes that over half of the nation's population will be evangelical in less than a decade.

"We believe 52 per cent of the population will be evangelical by 2020, or about 109.3 million evangelicals within a total population of 209.3 million," said Sepal researcher Luis André Brunet, in an interview with The Christian Post this week.

Brunet said that the findings were 95 per cent accurate provided that the evangelical growth rate from 1990 to 2000 remains consistent in the next 40 years.

In 2010, Epoca, a widely read news magazine in Brazil, released figures from studies on evangelical growth. Those interviewed included theologians and anthropologists, who unanimously agreed that evangelicals were increasingly influencing all spheres of Brazilian life - concluding that the evangelical presence has contributed to the decline in alcoholism, increase in school enrolment, and reduction in the number of broken homes.

However, Brunet was quick to point out that Christians should "think beyond the numbers" before drawing conclusions.

"If we consider two lines of thought, a revival is not happening in Brazil," he said, adding that revival is characterised not just by "mass conversion of people, but also profound changes in social thinking - as influenced by born-again Christians."

First, Brunet attributed growth to "aggressive evangelical outreach, adoption of more flexible [church] rules, society's openness to Christian life, and an increasingly influential middle class."

Brunet also cited a substantially weaker evangelical presence in Brazil's northeastern region. According to the researcher, the region could be divided into A and B, with A representing beachside and large urbanised environments, where the evangelical growth rate is at modest but acceptable levels. B encompasses rural areas where evangelicals rarely exceed 1% of the local population.

Second, says Brunet, evangelical growth has been held in check by "strong Roman Catholic roots in the population, in addition to age-old mysticism". In addition, poorer road conditions and difficult access to mass media also contribute to difficulties in evangelical outreach.

Besides social conditions, Brunet adds, church growth has been hampered by internal matters, especially those involving finances.

"Actually, the reason for this is that revenue is so minimal, that the mission cannot be self-sustained in the long term," Brunet continued.

In one SEPAL case study, the city of Quinze de Novembro has about 80.4% evangelicals, while its neighbouring town of Alto Alegre has that of only 0.28%.

"The most evangelised city [is] beside one of the least evangelised cities of the country," commented Brunet, emphasising that Brazil has "mostly unprepared leadership that lacks direction in theology, ecclesiology and missiology".

"Will life change in a Protestant-majority country," he asked, expressing concern that Brazil's growing prosperity may tempt Christian leaders towards materialism.

"The middle class is expected to double over the next year," said Brunet, saying that there are signs more materialistic leaders have begun leading their flock astray with prosperity theology. In addition, he maintained, evangelicalism has to overcome the "superficiality of life in Brazilian people".

"We see this [superficiality] among Brazilian evangelicals today, and it seems that it will remain for the next years, accelerating the duality between 'religious life' and 'secular life', which already exists today," he said. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the soul of a heartless world... It is the opium of the people. That is any human impulse caused by dissatisfaction for political, economic or social reasons."

Brunet mentioned "that selfishness and individualism present in these days can also be seen in religious life".

"Although some believers have concern for their neighbours - in other words other people, we can say that the majority are only concerned about their own welfare," he said.

At the time of writing, Sepal researchers are awaiting the results from the IBGE 2010 census to confirm the projected growth rate of evangelicals in the Brazilian population. Upon doing so, Sepal will create an outreach map based on comparing old and new data.

Conclusively, Brunet believes, positive changes can occur - including the creation of stronger institutions representing evangelicals "who cry aloud for the world of God".

"We must indeed pray to the Lord of the heavens that this transformation of Brazil may be genuine according to the standards presented in the Gospel of Christ."

Back to Contents

Fairly traded gold for royal wedding?

Prince William and Kate Middleton are being asked to choose fairly traded and fairly mined gold for their wedding jewellery.

A petition has been launched by the Fairtrade Foundation on the global Go Petition website to encourage the Royal couple to choose only gold carrying the Fairtrade and Fairmined certifications.

The petition reads: "We, the undersigned, congratulate Prince William and Kate Middleton on their engagement and imminent wedding. As part of their special day, we would like them to choose Fairtrade and Fairmined gold for their wedding jewellery."

The certifications have been introduced to protect the human rights of the estimated 100 million people who are involved directly or indirectly in small-scale mining. These miners, to be found mainly in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, are often at the mercy of unfair markets and exploited by middlemen who pay below market prices and cheat them on the weight and purity of the gold.

The world's first ever Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold jewellery range was launched over Valentine's Day and includes wedding and engagement rings, earrings and necklaces.

All the items carry the Fairtrade and Fairmined hallmarks, ensuring that miners have received a fair price for their gold.

Fairtrade Ambassador Livia Firth said: "We associate gold with love and beauty but there is often nothing beautiful about the way that gold is produced. Tens of millions of small-scale gold miners risk their lives in often appalling conditions and get a raw deal for their strenuous efforts."

Jenny Torres Delgado, 27-year-old miner from Peru said: "I would ask the people in the UK to understand that when they buy our gold, they'll be doing a good thing and helping many women who work hard and have to struggle to get the gold."

The certificates are the fruit of a unique partnership between the miners, the Alliance for Responsible Mining, the Fairtrade Foundation, other campaigners and jewellery companies.

[The petition can be found at: www.gopetition.com/petition/43158.html.]

Back to Contents

Weight watchers approach to reading God's word

Krish Kandiah is a popular blogger, writer and speaker and Executive Director of Churches in Mission at the Evangelical Alliance. He talks here about the Biblefresh movement inspiring Christians to re-engage with the Bible throughout 2011 - and why it's about more than just reading.

CT: Biblefresh has triggered a flurry of initiatives and projects by a huge number of organisations. Are you surprised by how well it's taken off?

Krish: We're just really encouraged that groups like the Methodist Church and the Brethren and Pentecostals have grasped this, the Methodist Church in particular from the beginning.

We didn't want to say to people to just go back and do what you did before, but we want people to engage in the Bible in a fresh way. Biblefresh is inviting churches to do something corporately - to have a weightwatchers approach to the Bible! Everyone's got a set of scales at home but they sign up to Weightwatchers to measure their weight in public. There's corporate encouragement to lose weight and there is accountability and you work together to reach your goal. The church could work together through the Bible in a year and help each other and encourage each other and tweak things here and there that could get people engaging with the Bible more.

You will see on all of the Biblefresh material that we haven't put a picture of a book and that's because we want to say to people that there are so many great digital ways to engage with God's word today - whether that's through WordLive, smartphones, YouVersion or whatever means you can engage with God's word.

It's amazing how Biblefresh is spreading virally because there are so many great opportunities for us to use a communication tool well. Paul talked about doing whatever it takes, that he would become a Jew to reach the Jews and a Greek to reach the Greek so that by any means possible he might win some for Christ, and I think that's got to be our opportunistic attitude to these new technologies.

CT: That concept seems to be sparking interest across the generations.

Krish: Yes, it's really exciting because for some people they have never read the Bible before. We want grandparents to get excited because they are the most trusted generation in this country and they have huge influence over the younger generations. We're encouraging them to give a Bible to their grandchildren because it means so much more coming from grandpa or grandma. We really want to see these generations keen to interact with the Bible.

CT: It's interesting that you mention the word "exciting" because not many people today would put the word exciting together with the Bible. Do you think that's even a common perception within the church that we need to be wrestling with?

Krish: Yes. Rob Bell did a commendation for us in which he said our unfamiliarity has bred more unfamiliarity. And that's true. If we can give people a way back into the Bible, they could taste how good it is. I was at a Youthwork conference in Eastbourne recently and I showed the youth leaders there how the writer of the Psalms doesn't rhyme sounds but ideas. And they thought "wow, I've never seen that before" and new bits of the Bible are opened up for them.

It's like learning to drive. A whole new part of life opens up and there are open roads and places to explore. If we can give people a few skills, the Bible will come alive to people in a new way. It can be a really exciting experience, but there might be a little bit of work people need to do to get started.

CT: You've asked churches to sign up to a covenant.

Krish: Yes, we're asking churches to make pledges in four different dimensions. The first is Bible reading, so do something corporately to help the church read the Bible together. The second is to invest in training because if the pastor or the house group leader or Sunday school teacher isn't excited about teaching the Bible then the trickledown effect won't happen. So our advice to churches is to do something to raise the game and train those who are teaching the Bible. Maybe send the pastor on a weekend course to refresh their preaching or do something for the house group leader in the church.

The third is Bible translation. For 400 years we have had the Bible in our own language and it's a travesty that there are billions of people who have not even a word of the Bible in their own language. Wouldn't it be a great birthday gift to give a translation of the Bible to the poorest country in Africa - Burkina Faso. We're asking churches to think about what they can do creatively to release funds that would make the Bible available in Burkina Faso.

The fourth is to do something to help people experience the Bible. We call this the Lord of the Rings factor. A lot of people went to see the movie and then went to read the book and we want to see if we can do something similar with the Bible. There are theatre companies, operatic companies, a painting competition, video competition, all sorts of things to help churches give people an experience of the Bible that will draw them back to it again.

CT: Why have you decided to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land a part of Biblefresh?

Krish: We thought that would be a great way to give people a Bible experience, reading Jesus' words to Peter as we sit by the Sea of Galilee. Being there will really help the reality of these stories because the Bible isn't just some great mythological book, but something that took place in real space/time history. These pilgrimages are going to be very Bible-based trips where we will be reading key parts of the Bible in key biblical sites.

CT: Is part of Biblefresh also about helping people discover how the Bible can become a part of their everyday life?

Krish: Yes, my wife and I have written a book into that called Route 66, which will be available at Spring Harvest, and in that we make the point that the Bible is full of different types of literature. God gave us wisdom books so that we would make really wise decisions, while the Psalms really pour out their emotional lives. There is emotional integrity in there that really equips us to speak to God when we are running out of words or tells us what to do when we feel isolated or despairing. We want to help people have a roadmap of how the Bible opens up the whole of life to his word.

CT: You've got so many exciting projects but what is it you really want to see happen within the church during this year?

Krish: We would just love to see the whole church get into the whole Bible for the whole year. I spoke to the New Testament Church of God because every time I go on the Underground in London and see a person reading the Bible they are usually from the black majority church and I wanted to know how they can help the rest of us! At the other end of the spectrum I spoke to the Proclamation Trust and they're putting on events to help people engage with the Bible so it really is the whole cross section of the church - charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed Methodist, all of us working together. It's really exciting that we can be one church gathered around one book for one year.

CT: Hope 08 was planned for a year but gathered such momentum that it just continued. Do you envisage Biblefresh really being for just one year or are you open to it going further?

Krish: With the Biblefresh coalition of 100 different Christian organisations working together in this joined up way, I'm hoping there will be a legacy. Instead of the church being very empire-built – "I will do my little bit in my little corner" - we want to see the relationships continue. Organisationally Biblefresh will finish at the end of 2011 but there are lots of other things the Evangelical Alliance has got planned to help people interact with the Bible and we hope the legacy of Biblefresh will remain for a long time and that we give the church a real boost in confidence in God's word.

Back to Contents

RE in English Baccalaureate

Christians from across the board are getting behind a major campaign to see Religious Education included in the new English Baccalaureate.

The R.E.ACT campaign, led by Premier Christian Media, is urging Education Secretary Michael Gove to backtrack on his decision to leave RE off the new Baccalaureate curriculum.

The campaign has drawn broad support from church leaders, academics and MPs who fear the move will weaken students' sense of values and identity in multi-cultural Britain, and hamper their understanding of other faiths at a time of heightened global tensions concerning religion.

There are also concerns that resources will be withdrawn from RE and committed instead to other subjects.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, said he was "very concerned" about the omission of RE from the Baccalaureate curriculum.

He said, "By not including RE in the Gold Standard many schools are already diverting resources from RE to history and geography, which are in the Baccalaureate. RE is a crucial subject at a time of global disharmony over religious matters. Religious illiteracy is a major problem both in our society and all over the world. Moreover, RE is the only subject which allows students to work out their own framework of values and beliefs in order to shape their life long character."

The decision to leave RE off the Baccalaureate comes in spite of its prevailing popularity among students, with the Church of England reporting year-on-year increases in the number of students taking GCSE and A-Level RE over the last decade.

Canon Dr Ann Holt, Director of Programme at the Bible Society, said: "For a Government purportedly so concerned about well-being and civil society, in their Department for Education they are demonstrating a remarkable lack of understanding about what goes in to achieving such things. Religions and other fundamental belief systems are foundational in all cultures and the wellspring from which personal and societal well-being flow. In our plural and globalised world it is vital that the curriculum recognises this and provides quality time for religious education."

The campaign is encouraging people to write to their local MPs, asking them to urge the Government to make RE a priority in education once again.

The public are also being asked to sign a petition in support of RE, which will later be presented to Gove.

Peter Kerridge, Chief Executive of Premier Christian Media Group said: "So far, each one of the Government's plans for the 'Big Society' has come under fire including those for the new English Baccalaureate. Leaving RE such a 'society' focussed subject out of the key subjects for humanities is contrary to the whole ideology that they're pushing. This campaign will provide people with the opportunity to have their say on this issue."

Back to Contents

Short-term missions have an impact on children

Fun missions activities for children can have a significant spiritual impact on those who attend, a survey by the Barna group has shown.

The US group surveyed thousands of children who attended "SuperKids", one and two week outreach missions run by Scripture Union USA during the summer of 2010. It found that as a result of the programme, 85% of the children who took part felt more loved by God and that over 80% said they learned new things about God and Jesus.

More than 30,000 largely at-risk children took part each day in some 90 Superkids outreach missions held in major urban centres and beach resorts across the States.

The programme, "Good News for You", was based on the Gospel of Luke and featured Bible stories, skits, small group Bible studies, games, contests and prizes.

The Barna group said the findings pointed to a keenness among at-risk children to follow Jesus.

While 77% of the children attending said they had learned more about the Bible, nearly 80% say they had discovered that they want to follow Jesus.

Three-quarters reported that they learned right from wrong and how to stay out of trouble.

The Barna report stated: "Without exception, every single belief about Jesus that was tested among the programme participants experienced an increase from pre-test to post-test results."

When asked why they wanted to come to SuperKids, seven out of 10 said they had "heard that it was a lot of fun".

Even after the programme had finished, impressions were positive, with two-thirds describing SuperKids as a "fun place to hang out" and "a good place to make new friends".

Back to Contents

The future of Sudan is "so bright"

In January, more than 99 per cent of Southern Sudanese voted for their independence from the North. Now the task of nation-building begins in earnest but despite the difficulties ahead, church minister the Rev James Lagos Alexander is nothing but optimistic.

Some people thought it might never happen; others expected widespread violence. Yet to the world's surprise - and relief - millions of Southern Sudanese were able to cast their votes in peace in the historic weeklong referendum.

The word on James' lips now is "thankful".

He is thankful to God for bringing the Southern Sudanese this far; he is thankful for a peaceful referendum; he is thankful to Presidents Omar al-Bashir in the North and Salva Kiir in the South for their commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the agreement that finally ended decades of brutal civil war.

"We are so thankful even for the government of the North because they worked hard to make sure that the referendum would take place and even to provide security for the thousands of Southern Sudanese exiting to the South," says James, a minister in the Africa Inland Church in Sudan. "It's a message to the world that war is not a solution," he said

Now the people of South Sudan are looking expectantly to a future of democracy, self-determination and, most importantly, peace. The wounds of the recent past may still be fresh in their minds, but James believes the success of the referendum is a "good indication" that the world's newest nation will not return to war. He commented, "Sudanese are now taking a different approach to many of the issues facing them. People lost their lives and they know that is not good for the nation."

Darfur has been marred by civil war for much of the last decade and scores have been killed in skirmishes in the contested oil-rich region of Abyei in recent weeks, but even these difficulties can be resolved if leaders sit down and talk, James believes.

He says, "All the conflict that exists can be overcome by dialogue. The Sudanese people are trying to tell the world that the language that can be spoken now is not the language of guns. There are new generations who can sit at the table and iron out their differences."

Contemplating the future, James acknowledges that there may be disputes among Southern Sudanese from time to time over certain issues, but there is a sense of responsibility towards the new nation. The people have committed themselves to the good of the country, to reconciling with one another, and to building a nation that is based on respect for human rights, peaceful relations, and justice, he says.

He continued, "The country that is being born has not been brought about by guns. It has not been brought about by politicians. It has been brought about by the people of the South, so the Southern Sudanese are owning their own country."

Yet his hope is not only for the people of South Sudan. It is also for the people in the North. They too need peace, says James.

"Even the Northern Sudanese need to enjoy peace in the country. What we are talking about now is peace, justice and equality that will make Sudan, both North and South, strong."

With that in mind, the first priority of the church is to preserve the peace that has been gained and do what it can to help build the new nation. In the short-term, that includes feeding and sheltering the hundreds of thousands of people who have arrived from the North in recent months. In the long-term, it means building - from scratch - an entire infrastructure of healthcare, education, transport, governance, industry and everything else a flourishing nation needs.

Neither the church nor the government is in the position to meet the challenges alone, he admits.

He said, "To create a new nation is not an easy thing. It is like a newborn baby, it will struggle to grow. That is why we are urging the international community that has accompanied us through the CPA not to stop there, but to continue to accompany us until this new nation is built and nourished and healed, so that we can go far and achieve what God wants us to achieve."

For the church in Sudan, the challenges go beyond meeting the practical needs of the people. There is still some uncertainty as to how the church will look in the new Sudan and while there is freedom in the South, the challenge lies in the North, where al-Bashir has determined to build an Islamic state.

For the time being, the church in the North and those Christians who have chosen to remain there are being encouraged to "work hard", continue preaching the gospel, and fulfil their prophetic role of promoting peace and justice among the people.

James commented, "The church has no boundaries, nobody will destroy the church of God. I want to assure them that the church will be there and it is not going anywhere, because the church has nothing to do with the North or South. The church has to do with the Sudanese and there are many Sudanese who are northerners and Christians and they have the right to be in the North and enjoy freedom of worship."

With Christians in the North feeling "isolated" and the church in the South called upon to meet the needs of so many, James is hoping that the global church community will come to Sudan, stand alongside the church, and encourage them for the road ahead.

He concludes: "I would welcome people to come. Just come and put one stone in to help rebuild the nation. The future of Sudan is so bright but we can't build it alone because we have nothing. We need friends - good friends - to come and help us to rebuild Southern Sudan."

Back to Contents

Time for Arab world to hear Gospel

Just a few weeks after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in Egypt, believers in the country are hoping for a new era of freedom, not only in their own country, but right across the Arab world.

The revolution has been difficult, admits Abdul Al-Latif, a Christian living in Egyptian capital Cairo, where hundreds of people spent weeks in Tahrir Square protesting against the regime until it buckled. The military has been ruling ever since and as the country reviews its constitution and its future, Abdul is hoping a new future for the church too.

"Usually we say hardship is difficult and we are scared of it," he says. "But hardship has brought blessing, it has made us stronger in our faith. Hopefully it will make the church bold enough to share the gospel with the majority people."

His hopes are shared by Mohklis Amin, an Egyptian staff member of Arab World Ministries' media arm. Speaking on UCB radio, Amin said the church had a "big responsibility" to share the gospel in the new Egypt.

"For so many years, the spirit of fear has dominated," he said. "People wouldn't dare talk about Christ in public with their neighbours and friends as they were scared of being arrested. Now we can pray that the Lord would give freedom, a good word and a hope to a nation starving for encouragement for the last three decades."

Al-Latif said the demonstrations had shown people that their security could not be found in a government or their bank balance but only in Jesus Christ. He describes a radically different church post-revolution.

"[The revolution] has made Christians think completely differently. People have started to go to church every day just to pray early in the morning," he said. "When I call my people in Egypt they tell me the church is full at seven o'clock in the morning. People have gathered to pray: for the church, for Christian leaders, for Muslims, for the country, for everything. That would maybe never happen if it wasn't for the hardship our country is going through. We praise God for that."

In the last few weeks, uprisings have ended the decades-long reigns of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Mubarak in Egypt. Now the world is watching to see how long Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi holds out as more of the country falls into the hands of opponents.

Under each of these regimes, the activities of the church have been restricted to varying degrees and evangelism has been virtually impossible.

Now Christians are hoping that the new orders that replace the old will be based on democratic principles and equality for all citizens, including religious equality and freedom.

Amin added: "God is shaking the nations ... it is time for the Arab world to wake up to the message of the gospel. People have been in darkness for so many years and now there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Back to Contents

Tweeting bishops encourage prayer and action

The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines (@nickbaines), and the Bishop of Huntingdon (@bpdt), the Rt Rev David Thomson, will launch Count Your Blessings in Twitter on March 9.

For the 45 days of Lent they will use the social networking site to share daily reflections and actions.

Daily actions will be posted every morning on Christian Aid's Twitter page.

Bishop Baines said: "The great thing about Twitter is that it allows immediate interaction. Anyone across the world can join in and tweet what they are doing in Lent, so I am encouraging people to follow us, get tweeting and learn through Lent."

A Count Your Blessings calendar has been made available for download at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/lent to help people look at the good things in their lives and respond through giving, reflection, action or prayer.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is encouraging people to get involved in Count Your Blessings.

He said: "We should all count our blessings for what God has given us and I hope that everyone will consider taking action to help those in need this Easter, no matter where they live."

[Follow the Twitter actions at http://www.twitter.com/christian_aid]

Back to Contents