Japan – how can we help?

When faced with such devastating destruction, what can we do?  On the one hand, it may seem that there is so much to be done, that we cannot possibly know where to start.  One the other hand, Japan is such a strong and capable nation that perhaps they don’t need our help.  We recognise that countries like Pakistan or Haiti cannot possibly rebuild on their own after a major disaster, whereas New Zealand and Japan seem so much more capable to us, and maybe they don’t really need our help.  Should we be giving our support to other, more needy nations instead?

An experienced Japan mission worker remarked recently that in many ways Japan does not need our help.  Technologically, there is no country in the world more capable of dealing with such a disaster; financially, they have a huge capacity for reconstruction even if it will significantly set their economy back; and organisationally they are unparalleled.  However, with donations to established disaster relief agencies significantly lower than those for Haiti at this stage, and the DEC not organising an umbrella appeal, immediate funding for emergency supplies such as blankets, food and water is in short-supply, and reports coming out of north east Japan indicate that there are many cold and hungry people still waiting to be cared for.

One area where they will clearly need help, however, is in dealing with the emotional fallout.  So many families have lost loved ones, and with the scale of the disaster many do not have a body to grieve over and cremate in accordance with their tradition.  The whole nation will have unanswered questions.  There will be nobody who is not personally affected by a disaster of this magnitude.  How do they grieve?  Who will comfort them?

While such disasters are an unmitigated tragedy which we wish had never happened, they do represent an incredible opportunity for us to reach out and support others.  The small number of Japanese believers, supported by the Christian family worldwide, has a chance to express love and compassion, and give an account for the hope that we have even in the midst of such trauma.  Demonstrations of support and sympathy will carry great weight in Japanese society and do much to counter any suspicion that Christians are viewed with.

In terms of providing immediate care there are already many appeals in place to help feed, clothe and house the refugees.  Syzygy recommends OMF’s Sendai Earthquake Relief Fund if you want to give financial support.  You can also find regular updates, including prayer requests on their Japan website.  OMF have a large number of mission workers who speak Japanese well and are able to get into places and communicate effectively where other foreign workers may not be so successful.  They are associated with a number of Japanese churches who provide contacts and networks that are already in place, particularly in Sendai where they have been operating for many decades.  OMF already have in place established procedures for transferring funds to Japan and communicating needs and prayer requests back.

Please pray:

  • for Japanese Christians, who have to deal with the burden of their own grief while consoling those who don’t know Jesus.
  • for the overseas mission workers, already coping with their own disorientation, who have to function in ways they are not accustomed to while ministering hope and comfort to others.
  • for the Japanese people, particularly the military forces and rescue workers, faced with the unpleasant task of clearing up the destruction while still bearing their own unresolved trauma.
  • for Mr Sato, Vice-Minister for Construction and Transportation, who is the only Christian in the government.  He is currently in charge of the response to the nuclear crisis and will have a key role in rebuilding the infrastructure.  Pray for his health, and that he would be an excellent ambassador for Jesus.

Featured Ministry – Tunari Treasures

In the poorest country in South America, young people have little hope for the future.  Over 80% of Bolivian children live in extreme poverty, and 80,000 of them are addicted to drugs.  Many children are abused, trafficked or simply abandoned by parents unable to care for them.  Tunari Treasures is a small not-for-profit Foundation   making a difference for the lucky few in the heart of the country, Cochabamba.  They are training up a group of disadvantaged young men, some of whom come to them through Compassion and others from an orphanage. Teaching them metalwork helps them stand a better chance of earning a living in the future.  As well as being taught practical skills, the students are also taught administration and life skills, so that they are more rounded and capable individuals when they graduate.

When the students finish the course, they will have the skill set to design, produce, work out the cost of products and sell them.  They’ll also know how to do some basic administration.  This will help them set up their own small business, so they’re not dependent on finding an (often abusive) employer. In addition, because they are mentored as well as trained, they will have personal integrity, respect for others and for themselves and, most importantly, a deeper understanding and knowledge of God.

Gray and Andrea Parker, who set up Tunari Treasures in 2004 after moving with their family to Bolivia to work with Latin Link, now employ a team of Bolivians to share the responsibility. Their aim is that one day Bolivians will take the project on.  Gray commented after six students recently graduated:

During the graduation ceremony I realised that this was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I thought to myself “if I never do anything else in mission again, I feel I’ve made an important impact in the lives of these 6 lads”. It was brilliant. One of the lads, Wilson, gave an impromptu speech, saying to the other lads (who’ve only just completed half the course) that the certificate he had just received wasn’t just to be thrown away, but really meant something. Wilson was the one who 8 months ago nearly got chucked out of the course for breaking some ground rules. The leader of the Compassion project where he goes says Wilson is a different person!

Graduation isn’t the end of the relationship between the staff of Tunari Treasures and their students.  Even after the lads go on to get jobs, or start their own businesses, staff will continue to monitor and mentor them, to help them navigate the difficult path into self-sufficiency.  There are also plans to make private business loans to graduates of up to £600 in order to help them set up their own small enterprises.

The biggest problem facing Tunari Treasures is, unsurprisingly, financial.  The students are charged a nominal 20 Bolivianos per month (about £2).  The real cost of their training is twenty five times that.  Moreover, the programme has attracted such positive attention that Tunari Treasures has been asked to look at the possibility of opening more training centres in other cities.  This of course requires a lot more logistical support, premises costs and the training of new staff.

  • Please pray for the staff of Tunari Treasures to be able to effectively train and mentor young men, and help release them from the bondage of poverty and low self-esteem.
  • Thank God for the young men who have graduated and pray that they will find employment and take ownership of their lives
  • Ask God to provide more funding so that this valuable work can be expanded to help more people. They would really like to have their own premises so that they can be truly independent.

If you would like to donate to Tunari Treasures, go to http://www.latinlink.org/Donate.aspx and where it says “support a person or associated project” choose “project” and then scroll to “Gray and Andrea Parker: Tunari Treasures”.

Featured Ministry: Chrestos Mission

Karen Bible College students in worship

First of all, it’s not a typo!  The name really is Chrestos.  It’s the Greek word for ‘kind’.  Founders Geoffrey & Pat Atkinson decided that they wanted to be kind to the people they work with.  They certainly need some kindness.  Based in northwest Thailand, not too far from the tourist capital of Chiang Mai, Chrestos Mission works with Karen people, a marginalised minority group who have suffered much, particularly at the hands of the Burmese military.  Many of them have fled from Burma across the Salween River into Thailand, where they are billeted in overcrowded refugee camps while they continue the interminable wait for asylum in western countries.  Without Thai ID cards, they can’t leave the camps for fear of being repatriated.

After a lifetime of work in missions in south east Asia, you would think that Geoffrey & Pat would want to retire.  But in 2002, already well into their 60s, God called them to start this work up from scratch.  It is a testament to their prayerfulness and drive that in such a short time they have managed to achieve so much.

Chrestos works extensively in these camps, supporting churches, orphanages and even bible colleges by providing food, clothing and medicine.  Through this support lives are saved, children are cared for and educated, and people meet Jesus.  Many of them go on to graduate from bible colleges and perpetuate a victorious cycle of taking the gospel to their own people.

Through the work of a number of mission agencies as well as the efforts of the indigenous church, the Karen church is the fastest growing in Thailand.  At its base in Mae Sariang, Chrestos runs its own bible college with some 75 students, training Karen believers to go back to their people with the gospel.  Chrestos also has a high quality recording studio which produces teaching, worship, drama and Sunday School lessons on dvd so that the Karen church is even better equipped to spread the gospel.  In the same town Chrestos also operates and orphanage called the Home of Peace & Joy.

When I visited Chrestos in 2008, one of their Karen leaders walked with me across the ‘Friendship Bridge’ into Burma at Mae Sot.  It was the first time he had been back to the country of his birth since he fled to Thailand as a child.  His father was subsequently killed by the Burmese army.  I find it very hard to forgive them, he told me.

  • Please pray for change in Burma so that the Karen can return to their villages and live in safety.  Praise God that there is ample opportunity for them to hear the gospel in the refugee camps.  Pray that they will respond to it, and take it home with them when they are finally repatriated.
  • Pray for the Atkinsons, that they will continue to have health and energy, and for God to raise up indigenous successors for them to run the Chrestos community.
  • Pray that the Karen will be able to forgive those who have made them suffer, and that this will be a testimony to the grace of God which will lead many to Jesus.

You can read more about Chrestos at http://www.chrestos-mission.org/

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.

Who is envious of us?

The success of the work of missions and the work of evangelism depends upon the ability to arouse envy.

With these words Dutch missionary J H Bavinck hit the nail on the head.  All too frequently the church seems to be selling a product that the consumer doesn’t want.  The bulk of non-Christians simply do not believe that our faith would add anything substantial to their lives, and in fact would probably stop them enjoying themselves.  We might claim that meeting Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to us, but do we really show it?  Where in the Christian community is the real incontrovertible evidence of transformed lives?  If Jesus has made such an impact on us, why does it not show?

The reason for this is that the bulk of the Christian community, at least in the West, does not want its lives transformed.  We are quite comfortable as we are, and if a veneer of religiosity on top of our materialistic consumerism helps us find meaning in life and feel better about ourselves, that’s as far as it goes.  This increasingly prevalent attitude has recently been called Moral Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by Christian Smith of Notre Dame University.  He suggests that “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition”.

So what is our response to the lack of public interest in the Christianity we are modelling?  We ramp up our marketing.  Millions of pounds are spent on running and promoting the Alpha Course (which is arguably the most effective evangelistic tool of this generation) while we completely ignore the best marketing tool in the business: a satisfied customer.

It has long been my contention that if we were all living transformed lives we wouldn’t need to ‘do’ evangelism – our very lives would speak good news to others.  This is one of the reasons why the early church (as recorded in Acts) grew so rapidly without any preaching of good news specifically mentioned till the end of chapter 5, by which time there were already some 10,000 believers worshipping regularly together, with a fellowship fund and a soup kitchen.  Everyone in Jerusalem could see the difference in the lives of the Jesus-followers.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bill Hybels wrote:

“Authentic Christians are persons who stand apart from others, even other Christians, as though listening to a different drummer.  Their character seems deeper, their ideas fresher, their spirit softer, their courage greater, their leadership stronger, their concerns wider, their compassion more genuine, their convictions more concrete.  They are joyful in spite of difficult circumstances and show wisdom beyond their years.”

Sadly these authentic Christians still seem far too few in number.  While people see us stressed by our ministry, frustrated with our church, confused about our beliefs, heartless towards the needy, and unwilling to talk about Jesus to the lost, we will never convince them that what we have is better than what they have.

Pakistan floods

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

There can be few in the West who have not heard terrible stories, and seen distressing photos, of the devastation wrought in recent weeks by the floods in Pakistan following torrential rain over the last few weeks.  Although deaths so far have been relatively few, some 25% of the country is, or has been under water.  Latest estimates suggest that 20 million people have been affected, with entire communities being evacuated.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described it as a ‘tsunami in slow motion’, meaning that the destruction is as great as the 2004 tsunami, though there is no cataclysmic loss of life – yet.  An even greater humanitarian crisis is round the corner, as the floods have destroyed crops, polluted water supplies, and displaced key medical personnel.  Millions of refugees are at risk of dying of hunger, thirst and disease.

Yet despite extensive media coverage, there has been an initially disappointing response to appeals for aid from governments, aid agencies and individuals alike.  It has been suggested that following a number of other disasters, there is significant donor fatigue.  Many agencies budget for one disaster a year, and have already committed a lot of their reserves in Haiti.  And governments, particularly western ones faced with the need to cut costs, can be reluctant to spend on aid while they are reducing services to their own electorate.  Fear that funds for emergency aid can be lost through incompetence or corruption can curb people’s generosity.

In such circumstances it is even more important that Christians give generously.  But how do we give wisely?  Here are some suggestions.

Give prayerfully. Don’t just give your money, intercede for the victims, the relief workers, and the government agencies involved.  Seek God’s guidance as you make decisions.

Give to people who have agents in the locality. Many UK aid agencies work through local partners.  They know the people and the customs and can often get access where outsiders can’t.   This also provides local employment and it’s easier to get a local to the scene than to fly someone out from Europe.  If you know people who work in that community, ask if you can give money directly to them.

Give to reputable organisations. The big names are audited and are liable to scrutiny.  That helps to keep them accountable.  An ad hoc organisation which has sprung up to deal with a particular crisis may be enthusiastic but might not have the level of expertise and transparency that an established organisation has.

Give to overtly Christian organisations. The Christian charities vary on a spectrum from those who overtly link aid with their Christian identity to ones which are run by Christians without making a public display of their beliefs.  Whichever you choose, they are likely to share your personal ethos of giving help because Jesus cares about the suffering.

Give to agencies with a lower percentage of admin costs. UK law requires funds designated to a particular disaster to go 100% to that appeal.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that all your money will buy clean water or high-energy biscuits, as there are inevitably transport, financial and personnel costs in delivering these.  But the most efficient agencies will manage down those costs and make the percentage available to you if you ask.

Whatever decision you make, please give to the Pakistan appeal as you would like people to give to you if such a disaster took place in your country (Luke 6:31).

Featured Ministry – Lifeline in Zambia

If you are African, you can rely on your family.  In Africa, you know that your family is always there for you.  You’re part of a community much more than you are an individual.  You’re never left on your own.  Your parents, uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters will always help you.

Until you get AIDS.  One of the most disorientating aspects of having this terrible illness is that many people find their family turn their backs on them.  It’s a situation unprecedented in African culture, but partly out of shame, partly out of fear, AIDS patients are often rejected by their families, sometimes just left to die in squalor in a corner of a yard.  They are often denied care, compassion, company, and even food.  Some families think that when food is short, why waste it on someone who’s going to die anyway?

Lifeline in Zambia works to motivate churches to meet this desperate need for community and to extend the love of Christ to those who are in dire need of a new family.  LIZ trains and equips teams of volunteers from across different denominations to support and care for those who have no hope left in this life.  They feed, clothe, bath, comfort and pray with the needy.  They arrange hospital visits and facilitate the delivery of medicines.  In six locations in different parts of Zambia, over 700 AIDS patients receive home-based care from 160 volunteers.

Many of the adults who have died of AIDS have left behind children.  With nobody to care for them, many of these now form child-headed households, or are fostered by grannies who no longer have the capacity to care for them.  These families too are supported by LIZ.  Provision of food and schooling, and mentoring for the older children caring for their younger siblings, are all part of LIZ’s ministry.

LIZ’s founder and chief executive, Lene Pedersen, will be on a short visit to the UK at the beginning of September.  If you would like to meet her, or attend one of the briefings she will be giving about the work of LIZ, please email info@syzygy.org.uk for further details.

For more information about Lifeline in Zambia, visit www.lifelineinzambia.dk

Nehemiah Ministries

Staff and students at the NM home in Sivaganga

Orphaned of both parents as a young boy, Chinnarai lived with his widowed aunty, who struggled to take care of him, let alone send him to school.  She asked for help from a boys’ hostel run by Nehemiah Ministries in Sivangangai.  It has been three years since he joined the hostel. He is a sincere and hard working boy, the first to successfully complete his government exam last year.  He has dreams of becoming a doctor and his standard 12 exam next year will be crucial in choosing for him a future career.

Nehemiah Ministries (NM) is a Christian charity aiming to take the love of Jesus to India, particularly to the poor and neglected.  It is led by Jayakumar, who gave up his job as technology teacher at Hebron School to set up NM.  They now operate in several states of India and have extensive church support and aid operations.  This growth has not come easily – there has been much opposition and in some areas churches supported by NM saw their buildings burnt down.  Even the hostel in Sivangangai experienced a lot of hostility at first, but has gradually been accepted as the value of the work there is recognised.  A recent government inspection praised the hostel and recommended its expansion.

The NM centre in Nagapattinam

Much of NM’s work is with the dalits, who are the ones who suffer the most poverty and neglect.  One such boy is Rajamurthy.  He is a class 10 student and a Sunday school student from the time he was touched by the gospel. His father is a habitual drinker and his mother steeped in worship of the Hindu gods. Life was always miserable for Raja, who still has to witness his father’s daily verbal and physical abuse of his mother. His only source of comfort is the word of God, the church and the pastor’s family who reached out to him and visit him regularly in his village. It was through consistent prayer and witness that he was touched by the power of the gospel. His great desire in life is to see peace descending on his family. He has been fervently praying for the conversion of his family.

  • Please pray for the work of Nehemiah Ministries, and for its Indian staff, who carry out their ministry under much difficulty and danger.
  • Pray for the dalits, who suffer so much but among whom the gospel has spread rapidly in recent years.
  • Pray for other Indians, who often erroneously look down on Christianity as a dalit religion, and fear loss of status and respect if they become Christians.

You can find out more about NM’s work at their website www.nehemiah.org.uk