A Bible in your own language

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew's Monastery, Moscow

A Russian Orthodox Church at St Andrew’s Monastery, Moscow

In the western world many of us take if for granted that we not only have the Bible in our own languages, but that we have many different version.  But imagine you live in a country which has been under the domination of an influential neighbour for centuries. Their language is the one you have to learn if you want to progress in education or business; yours is only spoken at home. Although they have brought you education, literacy and Christianity, you still feel a bit of an outsider. Although they send you their missionaries to tell you about God, and give you his book to read, it’s only available in their language. It’s not surprising to find that there can be resistance to the Gospel in cultures such as these.

Until a quarter of a century ago, that was the world of some 85 million people of the former Soviet Union who are not Russian, and who speak between them some 130 different languages. They include large people groups such as the Tajik, who now have their own country, and many tiny tribes in places like Siberia, Kamchatka or the Caucasus who struggle even to this day for the recognition of their indigenous culture, whether by the Russians or by another dominant people group. Indigenous languages and cultures struggle survive in a homogenising world where in order to get on, become educated, and trade prosperously people need to fit into larger groups. People often abandon their own roots because of their perceived need to adapt and progress.

But now imagine what it means to a person living in one of those places when a Bible in their own language is put into their hands. Often they are amazed that somebody cares about their culture enough to publish a book in it. One person even commented on opening it “God speaks my language!” over and over again. It radically transforms their impression of God into the one who has come into their world and values them and their identity.

This is at the heart of the work of the Institute for Bible Translation (IBT). Based in Moscow in a former monastery which was founded five centuries ago with the express purpose of organising the study of Greek and Slavonic texts to a high academic level and translating them into Russian, IBT now serves the many non-Slavic people of the former USSR who have no scripture in their own language. Having gone through the lengthy process of doing a proper technical translation, they also then publish the Word in the form of books, audio-Bibles and digital Bibles. The aim is to get the Bible into the hands of people who would otherwise have no access to it. Many of these people are Moslem, although some have traditional shamanistic beliefs.

Recognising that there may initially be resistance to their work, the early works that IBT focuses on include a Children’s Bible, and a book of local folk stories, which are illustrated wherever possible by local artists, in order to reinforce their cultural relevance. Proverbs often follows, because many Biblical proverbs mirror local wisdom and are readily accepted.  Since parents are often keen for their children to learn their own language so that it will survive, books that are targeted at children are very popular. To date, the Children’s Bible has been produced in more than 40 languages, with over 9 million copies in print.

When a specific book is complete, there is a presentation ceremony wherever this is possible. In minority communities, even those who are Moslem, this is often seen as an opportunity to celebrate and affirm their traditional culture. So the local president, or mayor, or even the imam may be a central figure in the presentation. At an event like this, one imam commented that he always uses the Bible to teach from in his mosque, because it is in his own language! He can’t understand the Quran, as he doesn’t speak Arabic. So there is immediate evangelistic potential from the publication of a Bible in their own language.

While there continue to be many challenges, the work of IBT is advancing the Gospel in the former Soviet Union. The church is being encouraged and built up, and the Gospel is coming for the first time to many people in their own language. One beneficiary of the work commented:

I beg you, whatever problems you might face, never stop your work. It’s very much needed; every book means a redeemed soul!

With a response like that to the work of IBT, there is clearly a major need for this work to keep on expanding. You can read more about this wonderful ministry, and contribute through prayer or giving at www.ibt.org.ru.

Review of Syzygy’s year

2010000393024_Cover-9702013 has been an exciting year for Syzygy as we have built upon the hard work of recent years to expand our ministry in a number of different ways.  Below is a brief synopsis of the ways in which Syzygy has been helping in mission.  Just click on the orange hyperlinks to find out more about the issues involved.

Singles Ministry.  The most high-profile change in direction for us this year has been the start of the Syzygy ministry to single mission workers.  This aims to help singles focus on their calling, get their singleness in perspective and have a healthy single lifestyle.  In September Tim led a retreat for single mission workers, and this will be repeated this year, and together with our associate Dr Debbie Hawker edited Single Mission, a book for single mission workers which was published in November.  This has led to invitations to speak at conferences helping mission leaders be aware of issues they need to address so that their agencies are better places for singles to thrive.  More events are planned.  We also blog regularly about singleness as an issue in mission.

trainingTraining and debriefing.  We’ve continued to provide training to several mission partners preparing to go into cross-cultural mission, and for the first time we’ve developed a training module called Why do we Choose to be Stressed? which addresses underlying issues that can cause mission workers to suffer from stress and burnout.  This has been well received and we hope to roll it out more.

Pastoral support – in June Tim went to Mozambique to visit mission workers and spent some significant time providing training and member care.  We’ve continued to support several mission workers suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  We’ve helped over 20 mission workers in direct one-to-one debriefing and advising, including providing information on issues ranging from tax to accommodation.

GalaxyWebsite – throughout the year traffic on our website continued to grow as we redesigned it  to make it easier to read, and it’s now been seen by people in over 130 countries!  We blogged regularly about a variety of issues of interest to mission workers, notably on stress, which continues to be an ongoing challenge to the entire missions sector.  As well as a regular devotional blog to help address the lack of spiritual input mission workers can suffer from, we also regularly provide informative updates and this year started a series of briefing papers about practical challenges about which we find mission workers are often seriously uninformed.  We also do an occasional book review.

Car ministry – this year our car ministry grew significantly.  We were given two cars, sold one and are just about to buy another to replace our ageing Galaxy.  Donors gave generously to the costs of providing vehicles for mission workers on home assignment, and we started an ongoing sponsorship programme called Keep a Missionary Mobile to help meet the ongoing costs of the ministry.  How about making a donation?

Collaborating with others – we have had the opportunity to work with a number of different agencies and forums over the year to provide training for them and additional support for their mission partners.  We also helped to organise a conference for the European Evangelical Mission Association on Contextualisation in Mission, which was a fascinating event.  We were also involved in coordinating a response to UK government legislation which will make it much harder for British mission workers who’ve married overseas nationals to move back to the UK with their partner.

Finally, we’d like to thank all our Trustees, volunteers, donors, contributors and prayer partners for helping Syzygy continue to help support mission workers worldwide, and of course we’d like to give glory to God for all that he has accomplished through this ministry.

Mission report – Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Recently Syzygy was back on the road again, as Tim went travelling in Mozambique for two weeks.  Visiting old friends Aaron & Sarah Beecher, Tim was also able to visit and encourage a number of other mission workers in the area.

The first event was Staying Healthy for the Long Haul.  It was attended by 23 people from several ministries working in Mozambique, along with Christian expats in business locally.  We spent time considering the principal internal pressures we place on ourselves which reduce our capacity to manage stress.  Then we identified some of the most significant external demands on us, and thought about strategies to manage and reduce them.  Given that stress is a key factor in mission attrition, it is important to address such issues.  Our discussions focussed on helping mission workers develop the emotional intelligence to understand their inner drivers, recognise how this influences their choices and become empowered so that the are no longer dominated by them.  Much conversation followed over the next two weeks.  One of the participants said:

There was so much good quality material we could have spent the whole weekend reflecting on it!

Others who were unable to be there were disappointed when they found out how helpful it was.  Syzygy is now able to bring this day-long workshop to other locations to help mission workers.

Quality metalworking at Tariro

Quality metalworking at Tariro

For the first time in nine years, Tim was able to visit Tariro, a technical school teaching high quality carpentry, metalwork and motor mechanics to Mozambican students.  It was encouraging to see so much development in this significant ministry and find it having such a powerful impact on the neighbourhood in terms not only of training, but of the spread of the gospel and a consistent Christian witness.  Tim spent two mornings providing Bible teaching to all the students which generated significant discussion among them about how Christians should live, particularly bearing in mind their witness to the local community.  It was also encouraging to see the long term training and discipling of key workers in the community leading to their ability to take responsibility and hold key roles in Tariro.  One man who was raised in a local orphanage and joined Tariro as a teenager is now the Vice-Principal and is studying for a technical degree.

Mural at Africa 180

Mural at Africa 180

Tim also spent plenty of time visiting the mission workers at Africa 180, a local ministry of I Reach Africa, a most impressive agency with great compassion and a ‘can do’ mentality.  Dedicated staff there run a number of ministries including prison outreach, a clinic with a nutritional programme for babies, a pre-school and a developing secondary school.  This too is a powerfully compassionate witness in the local community.

There were also plenty of opportunities to preach, teach, and provide one-to-one support for mission workers.  Tim caught up with a number of old friends, and engaged in a variety of ministry with them.

We are very grateful for your prayers for the effectiveness of this mission, which helped bring results in a number of challenging situations.  Please continue to pray for the work of the missions mentioned above, and the people who work with them.  Life in Mozambique is far from easy for mission workers, with many challenges varying from a tough spiritual climate to large quantities of poorly-driven lorries on the congested roads.  Their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being is always at stake.

Report from the Vocation Zone

68547_10151597577244603_1250709866_nDuring the week following Easter, Syzygy was represented at Spring Harvest by Tim, who was helping out in the Vocation Zone.  This is a project run by Christian Vocations in partnership with Spring Harvest, which aims to help people recognise their God-given abilities and understand where they can exercise them appropriately, whether in the workplace, church or overseas mission.

A steady flow of visitors to Spring Harvest came through the Vocation Zone, many of them looking at vacancies in Christian organisations which were displayed on the jobs wall, taking home resources such as the Short Term Service Directory, or using the computers to do some of the reflective exercises.  All these activities can lead to a discussion with an advisor (Paul, Tim and Rachel) who were available to help people think through issues and gain some focus for finding a way forward.

Many of the visitors to the Vocation Zone came because they were aware of dissatisfaction with their current role.  A lot of them were teachers, frustrated with bureaucracy; others were people in dead-end jobs looking for more fulfilment, and many were facing redundancy.

One such visitor was a man who had been in the same job for 20 years and he didn’t like it.  He wanted a change but didn’t know where to start.  We started him off with some of our diagnostic tools.  Having done a ‘career check up’ he had realised that his job wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was, and following a long conversation he discovered that he actually quite liked his job, but felt unsupported in it.  Added to that, the general level of change and uncertainty in his life had left him emotionally unable to deal with the challenges he faced.  Empowered by this understanding, he was able to develop a plan to engage better with his employers and develop his workplace skills.

527123_10151597525594603_2133469060_nSome of the visitors were people approaching retirement who were looking for ways to use their availability to serve God abroad, and a large number of the visitors were young people looking to do mission during their gap year.  Using the Christian Vocations resources such as the magazine Mission Matters and the mission vacancies listings we were able to point many of them to the mission field, including several who’d never considered going abroad or had thought their circumstances made it impossible.

Vocation Zone is an important part of events like Spring Harvest as it gives a mission-focussed edge in the context of many thousands of Christians coming together.  It is also at New Word Alive and Keswick, so make sure you drop by if you are ever at any of these events.  Our friends at Oscar run a similar Missions Advice Area at New Wine.  If you can’t get to any of these events, most of the resources are available online at www.christianvocations.org, and so are all the job vacancies, both in the UK and overseas.  Please pray for the hundreds of people impacted by Vocation Zone each year.

Jesus in the Port

This consultation was a major blessing and a privilege to be part of.  Participants included the host Robert Calvert (long-time minister of the Scots International Church in Rotterdam) and his PLACE colleagues Stephen Thrall (Paris), Dave Clark (Dundee), Axel Nehlsen (Berlin) and Andrej Madly (Cluj).  They are all heavily impacted by Ray Bakke who was the special guest.  There were about 30 participants who included people working in Dundee, Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Groningen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Cluj.  Many of the participants were outside their home culture (e.g. Germans working in the Netherlands) and every continent was represented, particularly people from African backgrounds.  There were also several participants working in Rotterdam who dropped in for part of the conference.  The atmosphere was extremely convivial and relaxed, with people quickly striking up good conversations.

There were five discussion sessions in all:

Cities – led by Rogier Bos we considered some of the essential characteristics of major Europeans cities (e.g. old, and centred on an Christian core such as a cathedral though Christianity is a disappearing influence, multicultural, becoming brands in their own right, built on a premise of self-actualisation and having an increasingly ageing population.  We considered the challenges of ministry in these contexts (churches with little sense of mission, stuck in maintenance mode, with much creative innovation on the fringes, and confusion about ecclesiology, missiology, ethics and eschatology).

Change – Robert Calvert talked about the sort of change we need to engage with, change that is radical enough to force us to reconsider our missiology and ecclesiology.  He particularly asked us how we evaluate change.  Traditionally we look at numbers of conversions, but ‘redeeming a community’ does not necessarily result in an increase in headcount though God can still be at work.  He cited as an example a Rotterdam church made up largely of ex-criminals who came to Christ as a result of an urban regeneration project but were unwelcome in traditional churches.

Leadership – Ray Bakke talked about inspiring leaders, people who are prepared to break the mould and engage with homosexual/transgender culture, enter gangland communities, or gain access to muslim schools by completely removing Christian references in their work.  He told several dramatic stories of incarnational mission.  The story which had the strongest impact on me was one of a pastor who deliberately moved with his family into a deprived area, and sent his children to the local school despite other Christians accusing him of ‘abusing’ his children by doing this.  His son became friends with a classmate and regularly invited him back home for meals.  When the family discovered that the boy was homeless, they adopted him.  Some time later the boy became a Christian, saying to the pastor it was easy to understand.  “You sent your son to my school and we became friends, so you adopted me.  God sent his son into the world, and whoever becomes his friend gets to be adopted!”  What a simple but effective image of the gospel!

Networks – Harald Sommerfeld and Axel Nehlsen (leaders of Together for Berlin) did a presentation on effective networking, highlighting the difference between strong ties, which are good for bonding and reciprocity while taking up time and not necessarily introducing you to new contacts and ideas, and weak ties which do the latter but not the former.  Ideal networkers need a blend of both.  Having successfully linked together a number of agencies and churches working in Berlin, their recommendation is not to try to bring everyone into one central network but to ensure that you are connected to at least one key player in each network who can then extend your influence into other circles.  I feel that is exactly what we should do with this network!

Prayer – we had a whole session on prayers for our communities, identifying key issues for each city and praying into them.

Additionally there were visits to the Danish Seafarers’ Mission, an Agape project living and working among immigrants, and an outreach and regeneration project in a poor area of the city.  These people and several others told their stories of radical incarnational mission which often left them unsupported by local churches unable to make an adequate adaption of their ecclesiology/missiology, which ultimately bore fruit for the Kingdon of God.

Several people told their stories and many of them featured successful work in muslim communities and schools, or fruitful projects which were initially too radical to gain support from local churches.  We agreed to keep in contact with each other through social media, and to meet together regularly in future years.  This is a network which is worth participating in if you are active in urban church planting in Europe.

The consultation was organised by Partners Learning and Acting in Cities of Europe (PLACE), a forum which grew out of Hope for Europe.

Stories from Burundi

A couple of years ago Great Lakes Outreach was one of our Featured Ministries.  Its founder, Simon Guillebaud, recently circulated news from a recent outreach they held.  These stories are too good not to retell!

One of our teams went to a hospital to pray for the sick, but unfortunately started with a room where a young girl was in a coma, and presumed to be dying – to such an extent that her family had gone off to buy a coffin for her burial.  A friend said to them: “Listen, if your God is able, then pray for her and heal her, and then we’ll believe; but otherwise, please leave us, we don’t want to waste our time listening to you.”  Our team rose to the challenge, prayed for the girl, and she came back to life fully!  Some said she was resurrected from the dead – who knows, but whatever the case, two days later she was back home with her family.  That provided a massive open door of opportunity at the hospital, with many staff and patients giving their lives to Christ in response to that undeniable miracle.

Another team went to Kirundo prison to share the gospel.  They spent half a day with a group of interested prisoners.  Every single one of them gave their lives to Christ.  The following day, that group of prisoners were all released from jail!  One of them called Misago was blown away.  He said: “I knew as I surrendered to Christ I’d been set free spiritually, but now also literally!”  As a result of their story a number of people living around the prison also became believers.

A student team in Karusi province spent three days washing the sores of child lepers who had been abandoned by their families.  Observers simply couldn’t understand how students could show such love to these rejects of society.  A passer-by said: “We’d heard that true religion is taking care of orphans, but this is the first time we’ve seen it lived out.”  Many of them gave their lives to Christ as a result.

Suzanne had been in bed for two years, and had spent all the family’s wealth on witchdoctors in seeking a cure for her mystery illness.  Our guys came to her, shared with her, prayed for her, and she was healed.  Her whole family became believers.  I met her yesterday, and she was radiant with joy, talking about God’s miracle in her life.

And in terms of the longer-term impact, here’s what has happened in the last few years to one pastor and his church in the second city.  He planted it three years ago and was totally discouraged with the lack of any fruit.  So he asked us to send a team, which we did in 2009 and 2010.  On the back of that, his church is now full, they’re building an extension, and he’s set up a similar team which is resourcing other churches in the area!

Update from Asia, part 2

The Juniper Tree

Although I got back to England two weeks ago, last week I left you in suspense about the second half of my trip to Asia. This was because I felt it important to inform you about the renewed challenges facing the Eurozone so that you can pray into this situation.

Following the conference in Chiang Mai, I spent a very enjoyable evening at The Juniper Tree, a most pleasant guest house in the suburbs of the city, with beautifully maintained gardens and delightful wooden chalets in traditional Thai style. There is a tangible sense of peace about the place, and one of the reasons is that it is cunningly designed to create a rural feel, despite cramming a number of buildings onto a fairly small plot. They are effectively screened from one another with careful planting. There is also a swimming pool, library and tv lounge. It is an ideal place for tired mission workers to get a pleasant break away from work, or to stay while they use the facilities of the city. It’s also a useful place to stay while accessing the member care facilities of Cornerstone Counseling Foundation and The Well, though you need to be aware that children are welcome so at times, particularly near the pool, there is some ambient noise.

Traffic in Phnom Penh

After that I spent several days with friends in Lopburi and it was good to see the excellent work they are doing there, and to visit a Thai church which I last visited 7 years ago, before flying to Phnom Penh for a week.

Cambodia had changed much since I was last there in 2004. There has been a lot of inward investment and there are now many modern facilities which would make life very pleasant for the wealthy, of whom it seems there are an increasing number. There were a lot more SUVs and fewer bikes, though still a lot of seemingly suicidal moped drivers, who manage hardly ever to collide. I met several people serving with different agencies who gave me a warm welcome, and heard about the significant number of independent mission workers, though sadly I did not manage to meet up with any of them. I had a number of very helpful conversations with those working to help them though.

Klong Toey, Bangkok

After that I returned for one day to Bangkok where I met up with Ash Barker of Urban Neighbours of Hope, whose work I have referred to before. He lives with the urban poor in a very deprived area of the city, and his whole family has a very simple lifestyle which reflects that of their neighbours. This gives integrity to his message to the often wealthy Christians of the world about incarnational Christianity. Ash is coming to the UK to talk about his work next month and I strongly recommend that you get along to his keynote meeting to hear about his amazing ministry. Special guest speaker will be Rev Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge.  For more details click here.

Thank you so much for your prayers during this long trip. It was most enjoyable, hard work at times, but also invigorating. These visits generate a lot of publicity for the work of Syzygy, bring opportunities for collaborative relationships, and bring me into contact with people who need our support.

Update from Asia

Inside the bathroom at Frishta Children's Village

When people ask me if I have children, there’s usually a vague impression of sympathy which crosses their face as they hear my answer – I’m not married and I have no children. You can see they want to say something like ‘Never mind, I’m sure God has someone special for you’ but are not sure how appropriate and affirming that really is. Instead they quickly change the subject.  So it was a pleasant relief to meet two Indians whose response was immediately: ‘That’s great! You have more time for your ministry.’

The Indians I met on my brief journey to Punjab seemed very focussed and hard-working. Perhaps their dedication comes from the price they have paid to follow Jesus. I heard several stories about people who had been thrown out of their families when they became Christians. It made me wonder how we in the West would have coped with that. For them, Christ is everything. Literally. They have nothing else.

Frishta Children’s Village in Chandigarh is an ambitious project building brand new homes for orphaned or rejected children to be housed in. I was impressed by the quality of their work, and their commitment to ensuring high quality care and living standards for their children. You can read more about their work at www.frishta.org.uk.  Their strapline Till They All Have Homes… says it all.

After two days in India I moved on to Singapore where I stayed at the International Headquarters of OMF.  It was good catching up with old friends and meeting some OMF workers for the first time and hearing of their work.  The recently refurbished premises are over the road from the Botanical Gardens, a beautifully-maintained large park area.  On Sunday morning, having attended the church service at St John’s & St Margaret’s on Saturday evening, I decided that I would spend time in the park with God.  I was not disappointed.    It was a very refreshing time, apart from the drama of watching a komodo dragon eating a turtle.

In the Botanical Gardens there is a large National Orchid Collection, where they breed, show and maintain a huge variety of these beautiful flowers.  In the VIP collection they show orchids named after celebrities and dignitaries whom they have invited to visit. Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana were honoured, so was Andrea Bocelli.  I thought it was rather insensitive of them to invite him to visit an orchid collection.

Then I moved on to Chiang Mai, where I took part in the first ever Global Member Care Conference (organised by the Global Member Care Network), along with colleagues representing numerous organisations from all over the world. It was particularly encouraging to see so many representatives from newer sending nations, and not just the usual Westerners. The teaching was excellent and there were good opportunities to get to know others working in the same sector. There are some major possibilities in this for Syzygy, which I won’t announce yet in case they don’t come to fruition, but please pray that some significant developments would come about.

Then, having spent a night at the lovely Christian guest home The Juniper Tree, I travelled by bus and car across Thailand to Lopburi where OMF has its Language and Orientation Centre for Thailand, and I caught up with friends and former colleagues, enjoying visiting the projects they are working on.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Cambodia to stay with friends there, and hopefully meet up with more people who I can help, and then I have another day in Bangkok visiting Urban Neighbours of Hope before I return home.

Please continue to pray for safe travelling, good meetings with friends, opportunities to consult with other agencies, time to provide healing prayer and discussion with those who need it, and for God to use me for his glory.

Syzygy’s grand tour of Asia

Today sees the start of Syzygy’s first ever multi-national mission support trip, taking in 4 countries in as many weeks.  As this blog is published Tim is already in the air en route to India, where he will visit the Studley family Frishta Children’s Village, which aims to combat homelessness among India’s many millions of orphans.  From there Tim will travel to Singapore, where he will meet up with old friends, including some who work with OMF, and then on to Thailand where he will be part of the Global Member Care Conference (Member Care is what those engaged in pastoral support for mission workers call their role).

While there he will meet with Janene from Eagles Rest, and then visit two projects, The Well and The Juniper Tree, both of which provide pastoral support and counselling for mission workers, before visiting friends in another part of Thailand.  Tim will then continue to Cambodia where he will spend time with mission workers before returning to Bangkok to visit Urban Neighbours of Hope and then fly home – hopefully not too exhausted.

This is not just a good excuse for a Christian holiday, despite the alluring locations.  While providing pastoral support to all the mission workers he will meet, Tim is also seeking out other unsupported mission workers who may need Syzygy’s services.  The Member Care conference will provide unparalleled networking opportunities, and meetings with other agencies may well result in future collaboration.

Please pray daily for Tim while he is travelling.  Obviously there are the usual possibilities of getting ill and missing flights, as well as some minor security risks common to such journeys.  Additionally it will be tiring meeting so many people and possibly becoming involved in some fairly in-depth discussions.

Please pray that:

  • he will be able to help and encourage mission workers
  • he will meet with new mission workers to support
  • the conference in Thailand will yield good results
  • God’s hand will guide Tim in whatever situation he finds himself

We will provide brief updates here as and when time and internet access allow!

Dates:

April
16th – Fly to India
19th – Fly to Singapore
22nd – Fly to Chiang Mai
23rd – Global Member Care Conference
27th – Day of resting at the Juniper Tree
28th – By road to Lopburi, Thailand

May
1st – Fly from Bankok to Phnom Penh
8th – Return to Bangkok
9th – Fly to UK
10th – Get home

Mission report: Brazil

The entertainment at a children’s party

In July we asked you to pray for the Soapbox short-term trip to Brazil which was being led by Tim.  Five very full but successful weeks later we’re happy to thank you for your prayers which made a huge contribution to this trip.

Two separate groups totalling 16 people, most of them teenagers, had an excellent mission experience, most of them for the first time, which will have a significant impact on their lives.  Discovering genuine poverty for the first time, taking responsibility for activities, and relating responsibly to underprivileged children were some of the positive outcomes.

Building under way

The teams were working in a home for children who have been removed from their families for their own safety or protection, which is run entirely by local Christians with very little outside support.  Although the children are housed, fed, clothed and educated, they do not have much else, so were really appreciative of the interest shown in them by others from overseas, who played with them, taught them some English, and took them out on trips.  Some of us also formed lasting supportive relationships with the children which will continue now we are back in England.

Also, the teams accomplished an immense amount of practical work:

  • Built, plastered (with professional help) and painted a wall to prevent children falling off the patio
  • Paid for a builder to complete the final section of the perimeter wall and concrete an area of waste ground so that the children can play on it safely
  • Painted the main hall of the building
  • Built a set of sturdy steps to give children safe access to the upper play area
  • Repaired damaged perimeter walls and cracks in the patio paving
  • Replaced the lock on the main door which wouldn’t easily open when shut, or vice versa
  • Replaced broken glass in windows
  • Fitted locks and handles to many doors and cupboards
  • Made numerous repairs to plumbing, furniture and lighting
  • Provided new furniture for the bedrooms
  • Provided new cups, plates and cutlery for the children
  • Bought a new DVD player and some dvds
  • Took out an amazing quantity of sports equipment, games, craft materials and clothes

Painters at work

Happily there were no cases of accident, tummy upsets, serious injuries, culture shock or homesickness, so praise God for watching over us!

This was in many respects the highlight of the year for these children who, while being well-cared for, lack people to take an ongoing interest in them, play with them, and help them develop.  The shelter at which they stay runs a ‘godparent’ scheme whereby local people are partnered with a child and take them out, give them presents, and potentially work towards adopting them.  However many children don’t have godparents to help them, and some are too old (12 or over) to be attractive to potential godparents, who generally seek younger ones.  Please pray that more godparents will be found.

We cannot publish any photos of the children, for their own protection.

Please continue to pray for the children, who will miss us as their lives go back to normal  routine until next summer when another team will visit, and for us too as we settle back into our UK lifestyles (or not!).

Missions report: Zambia

My host for my week-long trip to Ndola was my good friend Lene Pedersen, who many will know following her speaking tour in Britain last year, and it was great to spend time with her, get to know her fiancé Dale, and help them prepare for their wedding next month.  Lene continues to be one of the three directors at Lifeline in Zambia – a ministry which we featured last August which provides home-based care and support for people suffering from AIDS/HIV.  LiZ continues to develop and it was an encouragement to visit premises which I had not been to before and see how well suited they are to managing the work and training the volunteers.  There is also a commitment to take on more highly qualified staff which is already having benefits for the work.

I returned for the first time in seven years to Kaniki Bible College, which trains church leaders for the Apostolic Church in Zambia.  There has been a lot of staff turnover since then, and only the Zambian workers whom I knew remain there.  All the overseas staff have changed, and the college is led by a new Zambian Principal supported by two other African faculty members.  There are currently 55 students and there is also a new BA course.  There are plans to build a new classroom block to meet the increased number of students.

Also on the Kaniki campus is African Quest, a missions training and discipleship programme for young people with which I have been involved since its beginning 15 years ago.  Many fine young people have been through this programme and gone on to be involved in missions in a variety of ways, and AQ is currently led by two of its former students, Tim & Gemma Mills.  This six month gap course is currently recruiting for next year and I will feature it in more detail later this summer.

I also spent some time with the new leaders of School Mission for Christ International This fantastic ministry employs Zambian pastors to go into schools and preach the gospel.  Thousands of students have met Jesus in this way, and teachers testify to the return of stolen property, decline in the use of drugs, and falling pregnancy rates as a result.  This powerful witness leads many teachers also to give their lives to Christ.  SMFCI is looking to expand both within Zambia and to neighbouring countries.

Near to Kaniki is Jabulani Children’s Village, where Tom & Ruth Dufke took over an abandoned farm 13 years ago with a view to developing a home for needy children.  There are currently 18 children living at the site, in small, ‘family’-type cottages.  With a view to maintaining financial independence, the village is partly funded by a huge sawmill operation, which now employs 65 local people, thereby keeping them out of poverty and providing food and education for their children.  There are also training facilities for the community on site, such as a sewing college, and there is a clinic to meet the needs of the local community.

While visiting these various ministries and catching up with old friends, I was able to spend a lot of time encouraging mission workers, helping them understand the causes of stress in their lives, and planning how Syzygy can help to support them.  Like many overseas mission workers, they have a number of challenges to face, and it was a joy to be able to help them find ways of dealing with them.

 

 

Mission report: Nepal

Mount Everest

Until a few years ago, Nepal was proud of being the world’s only Hindu kingdom.  Now it is neither Hindu nor a kingdom.  The constitutional settlement which deposed King Gyandendra in 2008 also introduced secularism, although approximately 80% of the population is Hindu.  So now Nepal is mostly famous for its altitude, since eight of the world’s ten highest mountains are in this small landlocked country, or on its borders, including of course Mount Everest.  In sharp contrast, in the south of the country the tropical lowlands are a mere 100m above sea level.  The country’s other claim to fame is having the world’s only national flag which is not rectangular.

My recent two-week visit involved a lot of trekking in the foothills amid breathtaking scenery, but also provided some amazing ministry opportunities.  Each day I shared a message on ‘The spiritual significance of topographical features in the Bible’, and with topics like mountains, rivers, trees and rocks there was plenty of opportunity to meditate on these while walking between villages in the Annapurna foothills.  Every now and again I would meet Christians from the city, who had migrated into the hills to find employment in the hostels catering for backpackers, or I would find modest little church buildings by the wayside.  Even in the Himalayas there are believers unashamed of the gospel!  I also had the opportunity to pray with some of them, and to witness to non-Christians I met.  I even did an impromptu Bible study with a man I gave a Nepali New Testament to.  Please pray for him to read it and find Jesus through it.

Back in Kathmandu, Aanandit (= ‘rejoicing’) Church in the suburb of Imadole is one of a group of four planted under the enthusiastic leadership of Milan Adhikari, who spent a year in England training with Ichthus.  I had the privilege of preaching there and of praying for the sick.  It was exciting to find that many churches in Nepal are non-denominational, and while there can be disagreements between them, they tend to focus on what they have in common rather than what divides them.  Truly refreshing!

Christians in Nepal tend not to be seriously persecuted, although they may well be passively victimised by being passed over for promotion.  Nevertheless, in a meeting with the president of the Armed Forces Christian Association I was encouraged to find that they have some 500 members, including a major and a police inspector.  However, a significant cause for concern is the draft text of the new constitution, which will make it an offence to try to convert somebody to your religion.  Not only will this outlaw evangelism, it may affect the activities of Christian organisations which run hospitals or schools, since this may also be interpreted as evangelistic activity.

A Nepali Christian

One such organisation is the International Nepal Fellowship (http://www.inf.org/) which has a variety of projects including the Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara which I visited.  An impressively efficient establishment, largely run by Nepali people, it was originally founded to treat leprosy patients, but as numbers have dwindled it has evolved into a spinal injuries unit as well.  Ironically, like many such establishments in the current economic climate, it has no difficulty raising large grants to build new facilities but struggles to find the money for the running costs.

I also had the opportunity to visit the highly-respected Dr Mark Zimmerman of the Nick Simons Institute (http://www.nsi.edu.np) and hear about his significant work training health workers in some of the poorest regions of a poor country.  Many of the outlying areas get neglected, and because they are remote and have poor facilities, many healthcare professionals refuse to work there.  The solution is partly to upgrade facilities like schools to make the rural areas more attractive, and partly to train the existing healthcare workers so that they are more multi-skilled.

Please pray:

  • for the Christians in Nepal, that their churches would thrive and take advantage of the current peace that Christians will continue to have the legal freedom to evangelise;
  • that the gospel would spread among the armed forces, and that people at senior levels of government would meet Jesus;
  • that a new generation of church leaders would be bold, zealous and equipped for the task;
  • that funding would continue to be available to Christian charities working in Nepal.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=289551&id=625609602&l=12d06f0aeb for more pictures.

Travelling mercies – a new definition?

Missionary Paul Bennison reports on God’s incredible provision during his recent trip to Colombia….

If I’d been on my own, I’d have been loath to report this, but there were 4 of us from the UK, and two very dear friend Colombian pastors.  We’d been ministering in Buenaventura, on the coast.  On a good day, in daylight, it’s a 3 hour journey across an ‘interesting’ Andes mountain pass (!): two lanes, incredible bends and steep drops, many trucks and buses… not a road you want to drive at night!  Which is exactly what we found ourselves doing on the return to Cali!

Not only that, as we were about to leave at 10.30pm, an Andean thunder storm, with typical tropical rains, began.  We were already looking at a 4 hour journey,  now more likely to be 5+ hours.  You could hardly see out of the windscreen, even with the lights on high beam and the wipers flat out.  The roads become like rivers in an instant in such rain.

After one hour of this I was sitting in the back, beating myself up over why I have no problem in saying to sickness ‘Get out!’ or ‘Be healed in the Name of Jesus!’, but had a problem with saying ‘Peace be still!’…. so I decided to try and beat my mental battle by saying just that.  Within moments the storm seemed to move away from the car – we could still see it, hear it, and see the rain, but it had moved away from us!

At 12.20am, we were getting out of the car at our apartment block in Cali…. it took just 50 minutes to drive what should have taken over 4 hours!  It took some time to sink in: not only did God quieten the storm around us, but we know we missed large chunks of the journey home, or reaching landmarks much, much quicker than we should have done.  Maybe this is nothing unusual for you: perhaps being transported is more common than I know, but I have to confess it is the first time I recall it ever happening to me.

Moreover, the rain began again with its relentless hostility within 10 minutes of our getting back into Cali.  I’m now looking forward to missing out on some long haul airline flights, and just arriving in different countries!  It does happen – I just would like the air miles, too!!!

Paul Bennison is an itinerant missionary who regularly sees God’s miraculous provision in his ministry, particularly in healing.  You can read more about his exciting adventures in many countries at www.paulbennison.com

PERU (Tim with Oak Hall/Scripture Union)

LIMA
In Lima we met with former street kids now living in Scripture Union‘s refuge (supported by Oak Hall).  They put on a play for us showing how Jesus had rescued them from a life of bondage.  Many of them had been glue sniffers.  At first they don’t believe that people want to help them, and will only come to be fed, but as trust builds up they become willing to stay in the accommodation provided.  Kids who have been rescued go out to find more kids to bring in.  After one night in Lima we went to a conference centre in Chosica run by Scripture Union, where we rested from our journey, but couldn’t resist doing some painting!
KIMO
Kimo is a retreat centre in a lush river valley where the kids go for summer camps.  Many of them meet Jesus for the first time there.  To get there we had to cross over a mountain pass 16,000 feet up in the Andes.  The narrow, winding road had been partially blocked by a landslide, so there was a tailback lasting several hours while it was cleared.  When we got off the bus we then had to cross a river on a hand-pulled cable car.At Kimo we cleared land for building new accommodation for kids who will live there permanently and helped with restoring existing buildings.  On the way back we drank coca tea to help us cope with the altitude, and ate guinea pig and bull’s testicles!
CHINCHA
Chincha is a town on the edge of the earthquake zone.  Many of the concrete buildings in the centre were still intact, but in the suburbs poor people who can only afford mud bricks found their houses in ruins.  We helped with a feeding programme for the children, and cleared rubble so that people can rebuild their homes.Sadly some of the buildings were so shabby it wasn’t always clear which ones had been damaged by the earthquake.  Many people were just sitting around in a daze, desperate for water and blankets.  Bamboo mats, which were being used for makeshift walls, had gone up in price from US$2 the previous week, to $5 so many people couldn’t afford them.One little girl called Paloma had not stopped crying since her parents were killed in the earthquake 8 days earlier.  Her four-year old sister took her and put her hand in Anna’s and she soon cheered up.
KAWAI
At Kawai, which is on the beach south of Lima, there is another retreat centre and also a home where thirty former street kids are cared for. They had all come from Lima and had been moved to Kawai to get them away from the bad influences they once had.  None of them could go to school while we were there as the earthquake had caused structural damage to the building.   We played with them and took some strain off the harrassed house parents!  We also helped redecorate some chalets which are rented out to paying holidaymakers to make money to fund the ongoing children’s work there.

UGANDA (Roger & Mel with Soapbox)

Praying with a school girl at St. Johns Secondary School

On one of our first days in Kampala, the team visited a secondary school and attended the Christian Union meeting. Here we experienced the most vibrant of worship celebrations, led by the children themselves. After this the Soapbox team presented a medley of songs/ drama and testimonies, at the end of which an appeal was made for any who needed prayer. We were privileged to pray for some really needy situations in the lives of these children, many of whom had a relationship with the Lord, but were otherwise destitute. The girl in the photo was facing eviction from school because of not being able to pay the school fees. We could offer prayer and fellowship, but little else in the context where the need is so great. We had to remind ourselves of the ability of our God to meet the needs of all his children, and to trust in his unfailing love. In such a difficult context, the joy and delight in praising the Lord challenged our own worship. With so little, they were able to offer so much heartfelt thanks- how much more should we, in the comparative comfort of our Western lifestyles unreservedly worship the Lord with all that we have!

Coaching children at Shalom Primary School
We worked in association with Nakawa Baptist Church, situated in a slum area just outside Kampala. The Church here has set up a school at which around 150 children from the surrounding areas come to receive education. Most of these children are funded through Compassion and Soapbox Child Sponsorship Schemes, without which they would not have access to any formal education. The team spent several mornings with the children teaching them songs, bible stories and games. Here in this picture Roger is using his training as a football coach to conduct a basic ball skills exercise. The children loved the opportunity to train and to compete in these events. When the team left Nakawa, the coaching kit was donated to the church and several of the young Ugandan Christian men expressed their intention of continuing the activities with the children in an attempt to promote physical fitness and also as a bridge to building relationships with the children, from which foundation the gospel could be explained.

Visit to Mwana Primary School
The Soapbox team visited several different schools during the 2-week trip. Each time we would receive the warmest of welcomes, followed by a selection of activities aimed at sharing the Gospel message in a culturally appropriate way. On this occasion the school assembled all their classes in the covered courtyard area and we performed a series of presentation items based around the story of Noah’s Ark. Along with some moments of hilarity in some of the sketches we performed, on each occasion the Gospel of God’s love was presented and an opportunity to accept Jesus as saviour was given. We were very encouraged by the levels of responses and as well as sowing many seeds, we witnessed several lives changed by the acceptance of Jesus as Lord.

Door-to-door evangelism in Nakawa District
On a couple of occasions the team spent a morning visiting the local area around the church. We found the local residents very welcoming and ready to hear our message. Often we would sit down on the doorstep of the house and explain the message of God’s love from the bible. Sometimes quite a crowd would form, and a surprisingly large number of people came to accept Jesus as Lord. We also held an evangelistic event towards the end of our second week, at which many people came forward for prayer and to accept the free offer of salvation. Nakawa Baptist Church are well organised in terms of follow-up, and many of those who confessed Christ were given a bible at the following Sunday service. Our team had been privileged to sow the seeds, and we left with every confidence that our brothers and sisters in Nakawa would carry out the regular watering. As for the increase, we know that only God himself can save people and we continue to trust Him for that!