Christian Today Digest - Winter 2012

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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
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Welcome!

Welcome to this final edition of Christian Today Digest for 2012!

We open this time with something of an alert to a new resource from Torch: a facility by which we can make new publications available in accessible media at time of launch. Sounds too good to be true? You'd be forgiven for thinking that, but in fact it is true! And when this applies to a faith book expected to be a giant blockbuster, that's even better. The first article tells you all about it.

This magazine comes to you with best wishes for Christmas (if you receive it in time for that), and for the coming new year. May you be blessed as you reflect on the greatest gift of all: the Lord Jesus Christ - a gift which St Paul describes as "indescribable"!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Successor to The Shack arrives - and for blind readers too!

by Lin Ball

Four years after The Shack - which courted controversy and stimulated debate but went on to sell a staggering 18 million copies around the world - comes Cross Roads. And - for the first time - a faith book expected to be a giant blockbuster is available at launch in braille and large print for people with sight loss, a publishing coup made possible by Torch Trust.

"So often people with visual impairment have to wait many months, even years, to get the books everyone is talking about," said CEO Dr Gordon Temple.

"This time they don't have to wait - it's available now! Working in partnership with publishers Hodder Faith, we've pulled out all the stops in our transcription department to make it happen. We've been working on an automated system which produces not only braille but various sizes of large and giant print on demand, and this has been a great book to trial our new process. It's an initiative that's totally in line with our whole ethos - to see people with sight loss fully included in all aspects of Christian life. It's a real injustice that only small numbers of the thousands of books published in the UK are put out in accessible formats. Cross Roads is available to borrow or to buy by people with sight loss."

Cross Roads by Wm Paul Young is described as a book about choice, participation and relationships. The central character is a businessman who falls into a coma, which takes him to revisit choices he made in his past.

Young, the child of missionary parents, wrote his first book The Shack for his family, making 15 copies with no intention to publish. He was persuaded to offer it for publication - but 23 publishers turned it down. "The secular publishers didn't want it because it had too much Jesus," he explains. And "it was too edgy for faith-based publishers." Two pastors formed Windblown Media to publish the book, and a million copies later it was noticed and taken on by part of the Hachette group, which includes Hodder Faith. Christians loved it - and loathed it! Critics said it was theologically wrong in its portrayal of the Trinity but others found its imaginative view of the Christian gospel at work in the ups and downs of life really inspirational. Much of The Shack is autobiographical, about difficulties in Young's life, including sexual abuse at school and adultery.

Ian Metcalfe, Director of Publishing at Hodder Faith, preparing this week for the author's promotional tour of the UK in December, sent a message to Torch Trust saying, "Congratulations on your speedy turnaround!"

Hodder Faith are launching, with a hardback, an eBook and a digital audio download. Torch Trust will soon add a DAISY format audio version for blind people to their braille and large print editions.

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Chaplains see benefits of workplace choirs

Two chaplains who competed in BBC2's The Choir: Sing While You Work show say that the choirs have helped to give workers a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

The Reverend George Lane, Manchester Airport chaplain and choir member, and the Reverend Malcolm Hancock, a chaplain and member of the choir at Lewisham Hospital, agree that a workplace choir has proved to be a great way of boosting team spirit and instilling a sense of pride in employees.

Rev Lane foresees lasting benefits for the airport.

"One choir member spoke of the choir giving them a reason to look their children in the eye and say 'I'm more than the job I do'," he said. "It's released hidden talents and revealed a different side to the individuals involved and therefore to the wider organisation. It's also illustrated and revealed how much dedication way beyond the call of duty there is in an organisation like this - and how that kind of solidarity and spirit depends on a sense of community."

Rev Hancock said that the hospital choir and its TV appearances had "brought great pride and excitement". He continued, "I would like to think that the choir will continue to be a source of solace, pride and commitment as this particular healthcare trust enters a difficult period."

Although both choirs were pipped to the top spot by competition winners Severn Trent Water, Rev Lane said the support of so many people was "confirmation that what we've been doing has been worthwhile".

"I hope, and fully believe, that the high spots are still ahead of us. We've just been auditioning for new members, and though a couple have had to drop out since the series finished, we are still growing in confidence, ability, commitment and aspiration. People would never think of an airport as a profoundly spiritual place or a place of prayer, but it really is. I've listened (and talked) about Milton with an airfield colleague, God's forgiveness with firefighters. During filming you spend so much time hanging around that I was able to have fantastic conversations with choir members, but it's been great having these conversations as part of the choir, not an outsider."

Rev Hancock, a former professional musician with Manchester's Halle Orchestra, agreed that the experience had enabled him to develop relationships.

He said, "People got to know more of my work and vice versa and as a result - coupled with the sometimes pressurised experience of singing - I got to know specific members of the choir quite well and, yes, we did talk about more personal issues from time to time."

The closing shot of the final episode showed all four choirs assembled on the stage of the Colston Hall for the semi-final results. Each choir had rehearsed one piece in common: How Can I Keep From Singing?, a Christian hymn by Robert Wadsworth Lowry. Before they were told which choir was to be eliminated, members of all choirs asked whether they could sing this song together as one choir of 120 people from four different workplaces.

Rev Lane said: "We'd all rehearsed it and we wanted a chance to sing it. Singing it together was magical and very moving."

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Christians pray for BBC

Christians working in the media industry got together at the end of last week to pray for the BBC.

The prayer evening was organised by the MediaNet, a network for Christians working in all areas of the media. It was held at All Souls Church, Langham Place, opposite the BBC Broadcasting House in central London.

The BBC remains at the centre of controversy over its decision to shelve a Newsnight report into sex abuse by Jimmy Saville. More questions have been raised over a Newsnight report that falsely implicated Lord McAlpine in the child abuse sex scandal.

Andrew Graystone, MediaNet member and director of the Churches Media Council said the crisis had led to a loss of trust in the BBC and other institutions.

He said, "I suspect that part of what we are witnessing in the BBC, Stoke Mandeville, Broadmoor and elsewhere is the consequence of the damage caused by the abuse of trust by Jimmy Saville, and perhaps others. There's a great deal of anger flying around at the moment. We are going to see people lose their jobs, families break up and trusted institutions damaged because of this abuse. And we are going to see a further diminution of people's trust in themselves and each other.

"I don't have any easy answers. We need to find balm for victims. We need to counter anger with grace. And we need to work at the long-term task of rebuilding trust in society. The only way we can do this is by taking the risk of trusting and being trust-worthy at home and work."

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New church debt counselling centres

Christians Against Poverty has opened up 21 new debt counselling centres in churches across the UK. Glasgow, Magherafelt in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Wight and Chester are among the places to receive new centres. It brings the total number of CAP debt counselling centres across the UK to 218.

Clients are referred to the centres through GPs, mental health nurses, housing associations and the social services. CAP works on behalf of the clients to work out a budget and resolve demands for repayment. Participating churches are all specially trained to help people break free of their debts and work through the emotional and physical consequences.

"I am inspired again by the willingness of the church to do what they can do to help people who are crippled by personal debts in their community," said founder and international director John Kirkby. "The worst thing about debt isn't the problem of having little or no money. It's the way it makes you feel. It undermines your confidence, you start to doubt your own abilities, you feel a failure as a parent and you spend every waking hour puzzling out how to break out of the trap you're in."

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C of E seeks to keep Olympics goodwill spirit alive

The Church of England has launched a campaign to harness the goodwill spirit seen during London 2012. The 2012 Games inspired hundreds of churches to host free community events like big screenings, family festivals and sports competitions.

But the Church doesn't want it to end there. It is sending out a call to change to 20,000 clergy this week.

Love Life Live Lent - Be the Change! has been written by Dr Paula Gooder and her husband, the Reverend Peter Babington. The booklet leads people through simple daily activities to make small but revolutionary changes to the world around them during Lent 2013.

An adults version and kids version will be made available featuring fun activities. Adults are encouraged to try something new or pick up the phone and call someone they have not seen in a while. The kids version suggests giving pocket money to a charity that works with children overseas, or saying sorry for something they have done wrong.

The #livelent hash tag will help Twitter users to encourage each other as they seek to increase the goodwill they share with others. There will also be regular tweets of encouragement from @LiveLent.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said in his foreword to the booklet: "When there are Christians around, that should be good news for everyone because we are making the love and grace of God real in everything we do. Why not use Lent and this little book to catch a glimpse of what is possible when we take a risk of grace? With God's help, each of us can be the change we want to see in the world."

Christine Ohuruogu recommends the booklet, saying: "The 2012 Games inspired millions to join together and celebrate everything that's good about life. Love Life Live Lent offers an opportunity to take the feel-good factor a stage further by being the change we want to see in our own lives and communities. You've seen the athletes play their part. Now it's your turn!"

Published by Church House Publishing, Love Life Live Lent - Be the Change! is available to pre-order, individually or in packs (of 10 or 25 for the adults' version ISBN 978 0 7151 4311 7, and 10 and 50 for the kids' version ISBN 978 0 7151 4 3148) from www.chpublishing.co.uk

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Fall in donations to charity

Giving to charity fell by 20 per cent in real terms in the past year, says a new report.

The public gave £1.7bn less to charity than in the previous year, a report by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) said.

The total amount donated to charity by members of the public fell from £11bn in 2011 to £9.3bn in 2012. Adjusted for inflation, the fall in donations represents £2.3bn. The average amount given by an individual was down from £11 to £10. Some people stopped giving altogether as the report revealed that the proportion of people donating to charitable causes each month had also fallen from 58 per cent to 55 per cent in the past year. It is the biggest drop in donations in eight years.

The report is based on a survey of more than 3,000 people by the Office for National Statistics.

CAF and the NCVO said the figures were "worrying". They have launched the Back Britain's Charities campaign to ensure that the work of charities is not damaged by the drop in donations.

John Low, CAF chief executive said he hoped the fall in giving was a temporary decline and not the start of a "damaging trend".

"The drop in giving shown by our survey," he said, "is deeply worrying for those charities which rely on donations to provide vital frontline services. Combined with public spending cuts this represents a potentially severe blow for many charities. If donations continue to fall, many charities will face profound difficulties carrying on their work and the people and communities they serve will suffer."

Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "I am very worried that fewer people are giving to charity. Charities are already being squeezed by greater needs, cuts in funding and rising costs."

He encouraged people to commit to regular giving through direct debit and to donate using Gift Aid to help charities in their financial planning.

He added: "I know people want to help when they can and I know that they can make a difference. We cannot afford to lose the services charities provide."

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First class travel and the Christian difference

David Baker

Does it matter whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer - or any other MP for that matter - travels in the first class carriage of a train?

George Osborne was recently engulfed in controversy when he reportedly entered a First Class carriage - but with only a Standard Class ticket. It was later suggested that he had planned all along to pay for the upgrade, and that a ministerial assistant travelling with him had gone to find a guard in order to do so. But a TV journalist on the same journey alleged that in fact there had been something of a minor bust-up between the assistant and a ticket inspector over the issue.

The controversy widened when The Sunday Telegraph suggested that 185 Members of Parliament had claimed for First Class rail travel in the past year. While not technically contrary to House of Commons guidelines - which do allow claiming for a First Class ticket "if it is less than the cost of a standard open fare" - many commentators felt that any such travel could simply reinforce public perceptions that MPs are generally out-of-touch.

Whatever the detailed rights and wrongs, it is hard to mount a real justification for the existence of different classes of rail travel other than profit. Presumably train operators might argue that the income to be reaped from such seating is ploughed back into the system by investment in better services.

But when MPs - already widely believed to have been lining their pockets in the expenses scandal a few years ago - travel in a way that is beyond the means of most ordinary voters, damaging perceptions can be reinforced.

Some years ago I found myself travelling in the same - Standard Class - railway compartment as the late Barbara Castle, the veteran Labour Party politician. As I remember, the fact that she was not in First Class attracted general approval from other passengers, one of whom offered to buy her a cup of tea.

Former Prime Minister John Major may have spoken years ago to no apparent effect of a "classless society", but it is the Christian faith which offers a genuinely radical perspective on the idea. "My brothers and sisters," writes James in his New Testament letter, "believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

He was merely working out in practice, of course, what the Apostle Paul said - that in Christ, we all have equal access to God, and hence "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus".

A friend who worships at a church in a Middle Eastern city told me that, as one of the few English-speaking congregations in the area, it attracts a wide diversity of people. She has sometimes seen impressive-looking limousines arrive, containing what she understands to be high-flying diplomats from international embassies. But, she went on, "when you look at the congregation, you really can't tell who they are."

In Christ, everyone is of equal value - and there aren't (or at least shouldn't be) any second-class travellers.

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Generosity is not enough to end poverty

The poverty still blighting parts of 21st century Britain will not be solved by Christians being more generous, says Giles Fraser.

Speaking at a service on Saturday to mark Church Action on Poverty's 30th anniversary, Fraser warned that Christians were just as susceptible to the chains of consumerism and needed to address their own dependency on "stuff" if they were to be effective in helping others.

"When we pour all this stuff out, it's just us, God, the people we love, our own vulnerability," he said.

While the messages coming through TV adverts just make us want more stuff, he said that Christianity was truly courageous living because it was about being dependent on God alone.

"Be dependent on God," he said, "then you are so fundamentally strong you can change the world - and the world needs changing."

Fraser made headlines last year when he resigned from St Paul's Cathedral after officials initially opposed Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters who were camped outside the building.

He is now heading up the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission set up to look at poverty in the London borough, which is home to both breadline families and wealthy Canary Wharf. Fraser urged the church to speak up about economic injustice as he expressed concern that cuts to welfare will make thousands in Tower Hamlets homeless.

"We will not transform [society] by being more generous - just another quid out the pocket - but by being Christians," he said. "We know the love of God is what will transform the world."

Church Action on Poverty marked its 30th anniversary with a fresh commitment to working for impoverished communities in the UK. The celebration in Manchester saw the charity unveil several areas of focus for its work up to 2016. These include the training of more congregations to address economic hardship in their areas and tackling negative public perceptions of people in poverty.

"We never wanted this to be a backward looking celebration," said CAP director Niall Cooper. "The challenge of tackling poverty is as great now as it was 30 years ago. That is why we need to be a forward looking organisation and more ambitious for the future."

Mr Cooper warned that attitudes to welfare and people on benefits were only hardening. He said, "People are more willing to judge people and see them as the cause of poverty. Much needs to be done to challenge these perceptions, including in our own community."

Mr Cooper said CAP would be looking to work with the media to change the way it reports on poverty.

"The stigmatisation of people in poverty is reinforced [through the media]," he said.

One of CAP's strategic aims for the next three years is to mobilise the institutional power of the church.

"We often think of our churches like glasses that are half empty. We think about what they can't do, but they are still very powerful bodies," said Mr Cooper.

The work of CAP has taken on a new international dimension in the last year after partnering with Christian Aid on tax evasion. The two organisations have worked together on a tax justice campaign calling for greater international transparency and more corporate responsibility.

Closer to home, CAP said its work to close the price gap would be a special focus for the coming years. The charity recently hit out at the high cost of lending, particularly by lease-to-buy companies.

"It's an exciting time, it's a challenging time. But together we can be agents for hope, change and transformation," said Mr Cooper.

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Iraq's Christians feel "frightened and forgotten"

Christians have started fleeing Iraq in large numbers again, warns Canon Andrew White, "Vicar of Baghdad", who said in his latest update that the situation in Iraq has "really deteriorated".

"The violence is so terrible," he said, "and once again we are seeing so many of our own people fleeing to Turkey and Lebanon."

Mr White said people in Baghdad "have nothing", as he told of a churchgoer who was found begging on the street by a member of the church staff.

"The staff member asked her why she was doing this. She said all the food she had from church has run out and she has no money to pay her rent. We will give her everything she needs today but it's another example of the terrible needs. All may have left us but our Lord is still here."

Mr White said he had not seen so many people fleeing for several years.

"Iraq is no longer a news issue," he said. "We cannot blame the media for this. So many of the journalists have been targeted here and many killed, especially locals. The media have moved to the traumas elsewhere in the region."

He also expressed concern over the scores of people being killed in Syria, Israel and Gaza. As fighting between Israel and Gaza entered a sixth day, health officials in Gaza said the conflict had killed 91 Palestinians so far. Israel has confirmed three deaths.

"The Middle East continues to be in turmoil," said Mr White.

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Medical camps help hundreds in India

Christians in India have helped hundreds of people access medical treatment through weekend medical camps. Around 300 people visited the weekend medical camps set up by anti-poverty movement Micah Challenge India. The camps were set up in Dwarka, near Delhi, and served by doctors who gave up their annual leave to attend patients and give out health advice.

Micah Challenge India organised the camps as part of its advocacy work calling upon the Indian government to play its part in meeting the Millennium Development Goals to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

David Jayakumar, Head of Micah Challenge India, and a local church leader, said: "The medical camp has taken lots of organising but it has been worth it. It's a practical way to show God's love. Often, the church in India is criticised for doing things only as an excuse for evangelism. But the camp allows us to demonstrate the gospel."

He continued, "One of the doctors was a Hindu, delighted to use a day's leave to see 176 patients. He dealt with infections, wounds and coughs caused by the unclean water and festering rubbish dump. There was also evidence of long-term poverty in the malnourished look of the children. This was a great success and we plan to do the same again, but bigger and better."

Amanda Jackson, Head of Micah Challenge campaigns across the world, said: "Churches have been thinking of practical ways to show God's love and justice, taking church into the streets where the poorest live. This medical camp is one example of hundreds of projects taking place across the world to advocate for the poor."

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Ministry sets sights on 100,000 new believers

An ex-policeman, a former drug dealer and a social media expert have joined forces to reach 100,000 people in the UK with the Christian faith.

Jonathan Hulton, Darrell Tunningley and Dean Seddon have launched GroundBreakers in Bolton after connecting on Facebook. The three men were already working to reach others with the gospel and realised they could do it more effectively together.

A hundred thousand people for Christ may seem like an ambitious goal but Jonathan is believing in God.

"I've really struggled with putting a figure on the amount of people that we want to come to know Jesus," he shares. "I think if we were honest about it, we'd say each and every person, but to be measured in our approach we are believing for an initial 100,000 positive decisions for Jesus in the UK. I know that God is the God of the impossible, and when we decide to actively step out in faith, God can do things far more than we could ever ask, think or imagine, and he will show up and do great things."

Dean, who has a background in marketing, believes the goal is achievable if they start by equipping 5,000 Christians to reach others.

"Some people think that the vision is too large, but we believe that God is looking to do something incredible in the UK," he says. "So we're doing as much as we can from establishing Foodbanks, to evangelistic stadium events, to local church training. We will do whatever it takes to see those 100,000 take a step towards Christ. To achieve this we want to train 5,000 people in 21st century evangelism. This will involve training people on how to connect with the community, and how they can share their story in a creative and gentle manner that will be attractive to others."

Darrell was at one time a drug dealer and car thief but experienced such a radical conversion to Christianity while behind bars that he became pastor of Hope Corner Community Church in Runcorn upon his release. Since then, he has been involved in community work and the Alpha course.

"I wanted to be leading a church that was a church with a different outlook, because I want it to be a mission led church not a church that did mission," he explains.

It was this passion for mission that led him to team up with Jonathan and Dean.

"We've learned a lot of lessons as a church," he said, "and I intend to help churches by sharing our journey and the things that we've learned ... to encourage them, equip them and to see the church come alive. It's time to wake the sleeping giant which is the UK and really start to impact the UK with the life-changing message of Jesus."

The vision of GroundBreakers hinges on three core principles - living, reaching and connecting.

"We want to see the local Church living and thriving, reaching her fullest potential in every corner of this country," explains Jonathan. "Local church is the hope of the world, there's no debate in that, there's no denying that. We want to work with local churches to help see that happen, even with stadium events - these must be in partnership with the local church. The second one is reaching; reaching people can be a challenge but we want to help take away those barriers and help Christians to reach their communities.

"That could be through social action projects, creative evangelistic events, music events and many other ways so that people can have a great experience and know that God is well worth knowing! Finally, connecting; we want to connect people to God and help people connect into the local Church where relationships can grow - we will not stop until the job is done!"

The GroundBreakers team are in the midst of planning a series of stadium and local church events across the country. Their next training is the Mission Possible Leaders Summit and Rise Liverpool at the Lighthouse Church on 1 December, with worship leader Lara Martin.

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New centre brings joy to children in Philippines

Church Mission Society partners have opened up a new children's centre in an impoverished neighbourhood close to Manila. The centre was established in Angeles by Jigsaw Kids Ministries, a project founded by CMS mission partners Kate and Tim Lee. It is now the fifth children's centre to be established in the Manila area by Jigsaw.

The centres are bringing hope to more than 1,300 children in poverty through school sponsorship, literacy classes and nutritious food.

Leadership of the Angeles centre has been handed over to local mission partner Lendehl Sallidao.

Sallidao said: "Jigsaw is a family of God where love can grow. My heart cries with joy when I see children I first met five years ago - although many still live in slums, they come to the centres cheerfully. Many now serve us. They are no longer alone, but part of a big, loving family."

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Persecution: coming soon

In recent years, November has become the month in the Western church where there is a special focus on praying for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. It should, of course, be an all-the-year-round activity, but it is helpful to have a regular focus and reminder of the scale of the need, as a spur to our faithful intercession.

Many of us in the West have had little experience or encounter with overt and state-sponsored hostility to our Christian faith. My own experience goes no further than having some very intimidating members of Robert Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation in dark sunglasses standing at the back of my church in Zimbabwe for a period, and my telephone tapped. That was disconcerting enough.

But for countless millions of our brothers and sisters the threat of violence, hardship, imprisonment and even death is an ongoing daily reality. I read recently that if the persecution of the church gets no worse, one in every two hundred people alive today can expect to die for their faith. A believer is tortured every three minutes in the Muslim world.

From the comparative comfort of the West, however, it is still easy to believe that persecution only happens in a small number of countries, and that it is not anything on a global scale. It comes as a shock to discover that more than three-quarters of the world's population live in countries which are closed to the gospel and where evangelistic missionary activity is prohibited.

It is worthwhile recalling Jesus' prophecy that "you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matthew 24:9). That is nearer to being true now than it ever has been. There are precious few countries left where there is not some form of restriction on Christian beliefs or freedom to evangelise. Even in Britain it is now obvious that we must prepare for persecution, as the attitude of society and government moves from apathy to hostility.

Some Christians blithely cling to the "escape mentality" that the church will be raptured before the great tribulation. But where persecution is concerned, it matters not whether one holds to a pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture of the church, because suffering and persecution can come upon the church at any time and in any place. The task of the church is to be prepared at all times, so that when it comes we can endure it with grace and courage.

A bishop in China once sadly told Corrie ten Boom, "We failed. We should have made the Christians strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come and take them away." He added, "You still have time to tell the people how to prepare for persecution, how to stand when tribulation comes, to stand and not faint."

Whatever our convictions regarding God's purposes in allowing suffering and persecution, all of us are taught to believe that we can be confident in the Lord when such crises come. Jesus encouraged his disciples with these words: "In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). So now is the time to strengthen ourselves. The lesson from chapters such as Daniel 3, where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego go through the burning fiery furnace, is of the need to be faithful.

Faithfulness daily in the small matters in life is what prepares us for faithfulness in the big crises of life, remembering Jesus' words in Luke 16:10: "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much." Tens of thousands of Christians have been faithful to the extent of martyrdom, because not all have been rescued from the fiery furnace. Our faith will only ever be comparable to theirs if we take heed of that challenge from that Chinese bishop and strengthen our faith and obedience to Christ now, whilst at the same time heeding the exhortation in Hebrews to "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering." (Hebrews 13:3)

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Prayer for the new Archbishop of Canterbury

The Church of England has published a specially written prayer for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby:

God our Father, Lord of all the world, through your Son you have called us into the fellowship of your universal Church: hear our prayer for your faithful people that in their vocation and ministry each may be an instrument of your love, and give to your servant Justin the needful gifts of grace; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

[Adapted from "Collect for the inauguration of a new ministry".]

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Revival in the Egyptian desert

Revival is spreading across Egypt, reports Open Doors USA.

In October, a Christian youth festival gathered 10,000 young people in the desert 60 miles north of Cairo.

Just weeks later, an even larger event drew around 45,000 people to the same place. They had the chance to hear a gospel message and commit their lives to Christ.

The historic events took place against the background of uncertainty with reports of persecution intensifying following the election of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.

One Christian leader involved in the second event estimated the number of people who gave their lives to Jesus at 25,000. The leader reported that around 8,000 cards had been filled out by people requesting follow-up visits by churches. Another two million people around the world tuned into live satellite television broadcasts of the festival.

The Christian leader said: "The view of thousands of people, standing up each of the four nights, proclaiming their desire to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, is hard to describe in words. This is when I could not hold my tears. Most of the attendees were from the Coptic Orthodox Church, and one of the nights a Coptic Orthodox priest was the main speaker for the meeting. Have I seen an Orthodox priest preaching from an evangelical pulpit to such a big crowd of people before? Never."

The Christian leader thanked believers worldwide who prayed for the success of the event.

"We are grateful to God for his great work among us and for you as our partners in the Kingdom of God," the leader said. "We are so thankful to God for his protection over this large event and the large number of people who attended. Grateful for the smooth administration of so many logistics and for the spirit and attitude between all the believers who worked together to make it possible. We are overwhelmed by God's goodness and his heart of mercy towards Egypt, and are expecting more and more signs of revival in the coming days."

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Serve until Christ returns

Leading The Way founder and president Dr Michael Youssef has called upon Christians to occupy themselves with the work of the Lord until his return.

"We need to stop running to the hills in white robes, but do everything we can to tell the world about Christ before he returns," Dr Youssef told more than 1,000 people at Westminster Chapel.

His message at the event, hosted by Premier Christian Radio, was inspired by Luke 19 where Jesus says "Occupy till I come". Instead of trying to predict the date and time of Christ's return, Dr Youssef instead suggested that Christians get on with serving others.

He said, "Just seeing the urgency of the time should not just make us sit there and count the days but really get busy witnessing and serving and getting involved in global evangelism, which is what Leading The Way does. We need to get busy, serve God, lift Jesus up, don't be intimidated or be fearful. Let the word do it as Martin Luther says you lift up Jesus and he'll do the rest."

Although based in America, Dr Youssef is originally from Egypt and has just recently started broadcasting his ministry's satellite TV channel to the Arab world.

He said, "If you told me four years ago that we would have a television station broadcasting 24/7 into 160 million homes in the Arab world and Europe on Arab sat and Nile sat, the most popular Arab satellites, I wouldn't have believed it. But God really put it together."

Premier presenter Muyiwa said it was a very significant time for Dr Youssef to be in London.

"I think it's a great thing," he said, "to have the unadulterated word of God spoken in London. There's something about a significant leader like Dr Youssef coming in that makes a difference to a whole city. I think Michael is definitely someone who has a voice and a message for not just the church but for the city and the nation."

Many people responded at the end of the night as he urged them to take their calling as ambassadors of Christ seriously.

Dr Youssef added: "I believe that if the believers unite together in prayer and commitment we could see a great revival. I tell people if the Lord returns today he's not going to find me in a white robe heading to the hills or sitting in the mountains. He's going to find me either behind a pulpit, or behind a desk or behind a microphone in a studio or with somebody ministering, and that's what should really be our attitude. I think it was John Wesley who said 'I wait for the Lord everyday but I work as if he's not coming back for a thousand years'."

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Value people more than money and materials

The Bishop of Hereford has asked people to think about who and what they value most in the light of recent headlines.

Responding to the abduction of April Jones and reports of large scale abuse by Jimmy Savile, Bishop Anthony Priddis said the terrible headlines underlined the need for people to love and care for each other, particularly the young.

"So often we can give the impression that money or material things or fame come first, rather than people," he said. "Few of us really believe that, but we can easily live as though that appears to be the case."

He urged people to put others first and do everything they can to let them know how valued and loved they are.

"This is the responsibility and joy for all of us as parents and grandparents, but it needs us also to care for those not just in our own families but among our friends and wider community," the bishop said. "There is no risk free society or risk free living. There are no perfect lives lived by you and me. We all need to let these tragic stories about children and young people help strengthen our loving concern for them and one another."

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World record attempt to get churches carolling

Churches are being invited to take part once again in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of Christmas carol singers singing together at the same time.

Premier Christian Radio is organising the attempt to smash the record set last year by 18,114 singers in multiple locations. Last year's effort was enough to beat the previous record of 14,100 held by Disney.

Now Premier want to go even further and are looking for more than 300 churches to take part.

Plans for this year's attempt were unveiled as a new survey revealed that less than a quarter (22%) of the nation plan to attend a church carol service this year. The poll, carried out by ComRes, found that among churchgoers, 61% said they were likely to attend a carol service.

Premier hopes the world record attempt will help congregations swell this Christmas.

"Last year's record-breaking attempt brought large congregations into churches, many of whom were not regular visitors," says Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Radio. "This year's new attempt on the world record will undoubtedly provide an opportunity for churches to swell their congregations and help to reverse the survey statistics. This is a fantastic opportunity for churches to reach out to their local community and share the gospel of Jesus Christ at Christmas."

The world record attempt takes place this year at 7pm on 16 December, when carollers will sing five selected carols.

They are Silent Night,O Come All Ye Faithful,O Little Town of Bethlehem,Away in a Manger, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Premier will play the carols on the radio, enabling churches to use the broadcast as their backing music and assisting nationwide unison for the event.

"After last year's event, we received a broad spectrum of positive reports from churches telling us about unexpectedly large attendances and what an enjoyable evening it had been for all concerned," said Mr Kerridge.

"Our little church was full to overflowing," said one carol co-ordinator.

"It was a really good evening that connected the community with Christ and Christmas," was the message from another church.

Vicar, Claire Greenwood, said: "People here are still talking about how enjoyable the whole evening was. We're very glad we took part."

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