This time of year is ‘conker’ season in England.  Conkers, the hard brown shiny fruit of the horse chestnut tree, fall from the trees and are eagerly gathered up by squirrels, children keen to play the game of conkers, and me.

Each time I go for my daily walk, I gather a pocketful of conkers from the pavement outside my house, where they have fallen from a nearby tree.  As I continue my walk, I toss them into hedgerows, unutilised corners of land, and areas of scrub, in the hope that they will germinate and grow into trees.  It’s partly to save the planet, partly to beautify the city.  I dream that in 100 years’ time south Birmingham will famous for its chestnuts, like Pretoria is for its jacarandas.

I take a similar approach to planting the seeds of the gospel.  Not all of us have the opportunity to plant vast fields of seeds in a systematic programme or ministry.  But everyone, at any time, can toss a few good news conkers into the unused wasteland of someone’s hard heart.

It’s not even as structured as giving them a gospel presentation or quoting from the Bible.  It’s as simple as giving someone a glimpse of what God is like.  A touch of love, kindness, generosity or help can give someone that opportunity.

Many of us who are passionately engaged in full-time mission can so easily overlook those little moments when we have random encounters with a homeless person, a shop worker or taxi driver.  Yet those connections can form the basis of a chance action which becomes a witness, which becomes a relationship, which becomes a harvest.

The Gospels present us with many such meetings in the life of Jesus alongside the big events like the sermon on the mount or the feeding of the 5000.  Often they are chance encounters as he is travelling.  One of my favourites is when he meets a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4).  He asks her for a drink, and they get into conversation.  The conversation becomes a challenge, and ultimately the whole village responds to him.  One simple request led to a harvest, just as one conker can become a huge chestnut tree.

Today, as you go about your business, be mindful that each person you meet gives you an opportunity to plant a gospel seed.

The man in the red shirt

The expendables?

There’s a meme among Star Trek fans that any character wearing a red shirt (except for Scottie) will die before the end of the episode.  People wearing yellow are important; people wearing blue are useful; people wearing red are expendable.  The security men in the red shirts haven’t got names, they’re not played by famous actors, and most of them won’t even have lines.  They are really just there to show how dangerous the situation is.*

In a world where most people want to be Kirk, Spock or Uhura, most of us are the redshirts.  We’re not missionary heroes like the ones featured in Syzygy blogs.  Our names will never been known to the general public.  We live, we serve, we die.  In the world of mission, most of us are playing a walk-on role rather than being a leading actor.  That means making a huge sacrifice in terms of our ambition, our goals, and sometimes even our lives.  Yes, sometimes the mission workers get killed too.

I was once told a story by an elderly nurse how when she first went out to the mission field there were separatist rebels in the area she served in.  One of her colleagues was kidnapped and a ransom demanded.  The mission agency refused to pay and the body was found a few days later.  The nurse told me “She bought freedom for the rest of us.  Because they knew we wouldn’t pay ransom, they never bothered us again.”

We all have our job to do, our person to be.  We don’t look at the others and compare ourselves to them, because that’s not the role the director has cast us for.  Our job is to do our very best with what we’ve been given.

The difference between Star Trek and the Kingdom of God is that although we may have a bit-part, nobody is expendable.  Every one of us is of immense value to God, and every death is significant to him (Psalm 116:15).  The souls of the martyrs are kept in a precious place close to God (Revelation 6:9).  And one day, we will all wear a yellow shirt.

* I’ve subsequently been advised by a Trekker that statistically speaking, blueshirts have a higher mortality rate than redshirts.  But since there are so many more redshirts, the numbers who don’t get off the planet are higher.

Star Trek is copyright of CBS Corporation

A senseless waste of life?

Memorial to the victims of the Manorom Crash (source:

Over 40 years ago, several OMF mission workers and TCKs from Manorom Hospital were killed in a horrific road accident in Thailand.

Those of us who are part of the global missions community are no stranger to tragedy.  Even if a misfortune hasn’t happened to us, to our loved ones or our teams, we have all heard of mission workers who have died in car or plane crashes, were killed by tropical diseases, wild animals or armed militants, or who suffered unspeakable trauma in some way.

We can be tempted to think that such issues are a senseless waste of life.  We could easily be angry at God for not protecting them.  But those who serve in mission have weighed the risks, and found it preferable to face the danger with Jesus than miss their calling through fear.  After all, we have already died, and our life is hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3)

A few years ago when I was in Thailand I had the privilege of hearing first hand a testimony from a bystander at the Manorom accident.  Apparently one of the survivors took the opportunity to preach to the crowd, despite the fact that his own family had just been killed.  His message was essentially that it didn’t matter that they’d died, as they’d lived for Jesus and were now with him.  The man telling me this story had been so impressed by this assurance of salvation that he subsequently became a Christian, and is now a highly-respected church leader.

When we glibly quote Romans 8:28 we can be tempted to infer that “all things work together for the good of me”.   Which makes it very hard for us to understand when bad things happen to us.  Perhaps the real truth is that “those who love him” are a whole community that reaps the benefit, rather than people individually.  We can never know what good will come from each individual tragedy, but we can be certain that “precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15).


You can read David Pickard’s reflection on this tragedy on OMF’s Billions online.

Rethinking exclusivity

A Muslim man joined us recently for our regular communion service at the place where I live and work.  Which made me think hurriedly about how to do communion inclusively and build bridges rather than barriers.  I could of course simply have said “This is not for you, but you’re welcome to observe”, as indeed you might, but as part of a community that is trying hard to get along well with our ‘cousins’, I knew this wasn’t how we would want to treat a visitor.  So I improvised.

Communion can in many ways be one of the most exclusive things Christians can do.  It focuses on the death (real, not seeming) and resurrection (tangible) of Jesus the Messiah, the divine Son of God.  The introductory words we say often make it clear that this is only for people who trust in Him for their salvation.  Then we pray to him, and at the climax we may also drink alcoholic wine.  So for a Muslim person even to attend this event as a guest is an act of outreach to us.

For some of us, communion will be a non-negotiable.  It is only for believers, and we shouldn’t compromise it.  Others will not think it particularly important how we do it.  I think communion is vitally important, but I do value thinking through how we can make it more inclusive.  15 years ago I felt scandalised when a church I attended suggested that the ‘belong, behave, believe’ model meant communion wasn’t the final reward for completing the Christian initiation process but a part of that journey itself.  Today, I feel differently.

Someone once told me that if our mission is not stretching the boundaries of our theology, we are not stepping out deep enough.  So how do we do communion differently?  And indeed we need to think about other things too which are essentials of our faith but which may also alienate those enquiring.  Should we wear hats when we pray or take our shoes off when we enter a church building?  What posture should we adopt when we pray?

As we rethink mission for another age and multiple competing/complementary paradigms and worldviews there is a need for more discussion about what can be changed and what can’t, what is essential and what is cultural.  As you go through this week there will be many things that you do as part of your outreach/mission simply because you’ve always done them that way.  Why don’t you take the opportunity to ask yourself if there’s another way, different but equally good.

So in presiding over communion with our Muslim visitor, I dispensed with our usual liturgy and read the story of the road to Emmaus.  I explained that we are all on a journey, and Jesus walks with us on it, but we don’t always recognise him.  I shared the broken bread and cup of fruit juice as reminders of the meal he had in Emmaus, and said that perhaps we would see him better as we eat.  I pointed out that the meal mirrors the one he had with his disciples the night before he died, when he told us to eat it and remember him.  I said that he loved eating and drinking and would welcome everyone to eat with him, and he welcomes all of us too.  We don’t have to be perfect to eat with him.

And we all ate together.  After all, the essence of communion is reconciliation, isn’t it?

Earthquake in Nepal

62 - Anna with PalomaHearing about the terrible disaster in Nepal last weekend reminded me of a time a few years ago when I led a short-term trip to Peru.  We landed just one hour after a major earthquake and after some discussion changed our programme to travel to the disaster area and help feed people, and start clearing up.

Shortly after we arrived, a young Peruvian girl carrying a crying toddler came up to one of our team members and, saying nothing, handed the toddler over to her.  Somewhat surprised, our team member set about comforting the toddler, and while the rest of us went about our work, she spent the rest of the day playing with the toddler and encouraging her to eat.  By the end of the day she had one happy child with her.

Later on, when we had all returned to our base, she said to me “I don’t know what that accomplished”.  What she didn’t know until I told her, was that the toddler had lost both parents in the earthquake, and hadn’t stopped crying for seven days.

It underlines one of Syzygy’s mantras for world mission: it doesn’t take much to make a difference – you just have to be there.

Many Christians, both Nepalese nationals and foreign mission workers, will be making a difference in the aftermath of the earthquake as they help to clear up and comfort the afflicted, even while suffering with their own fear, uncertainty and grief.  Please pray for them to be effective and for the Nepalese people to see the love of Jesus at work in their communities through them.

If you want to donate money to help, why not avoid the uncertainty of the international bureaucracy and mass appeals, and give directly to a Christian charity which has been working in Nepal for over 60 years – INF.  You can give through their website at

Story of the month – outreach in Burundi

IMG_1216We have previously featured the remarkable ministry of Great Lakes Outreach and this month we’re happy to bring you their report from their summer outreach for your encouragement.  GLO National Co-ordinator Simon Guillebaud writes:

I asked you to pray for our incredible annual summer outreach for the first two weeks of August and the results are in.  They’re awesome, as ever!

  • We sent out 1010 evangelists in 42 teams around the country (554 from our group, Harvest for Christ, and 456 local church folk who could learn on the job alongside our guys).
  • 11,366 people made professions of faith, including 62 witchdoctors and 55 Muslims.
  • There were119 miraculous signs, including two blind people recovering their sight, two deaf people hearing, 13 paralysed people being healed.
  • 40 separated couples were reunited, 4 people intent on committing suicide were rescued.

A few stories:
Our team found a naked vagrant madman under a tree.  He couldn’t speak at all.  They prayed for him and he was healed, in his right mind now and able to speak.  When his family members heard he was no longer mad and running naked in the streets, they gave our team all the objects of witchcraft they’d used to try to set him free, and made a fire to burn them all, at which point the family gave their lives to Christ as well.

Karenzo, a young child, had lain paralysed in bed for two years.  The evangelists prayed for him and he was healed.  All his family and neighbours immediately gave their lives to Christ, and the miracle opened up the whole village to welcoming the team in to minister to them.

At Giheta, two of our team were arrested as they preached, and thrown into prison.  Whilst in their cell, they preached their hearts out and led four fellow prisoners to Christ.  They got to meet the head of police and other senior dignitaries.  Once it was established they hadn’t committed any crime, they were released and continued to preach further to a large crowd who were all the more impacted by their willingness to suffer for what they believed, and a large number responded.

Praise God, for these and many other stories of Him setting people free!  Thanks so much for your prayers.  Keep praying for the follow up too, that it would be lasting fruit as these new believers are built up into disciples, not just converts.

To see over 11,000 people saved, as well as all the other fruit produced, the outreach (bus tickets into the bush, minimal food, etc) cost us $32,000.  Please help us do it again next year by clicking here to contribute.  Do also check out our beautiful new website in the process –

Guest blog: getting a driving licence

This week’s guest blogger is a good friend of Syzygy who has not written for us before, but we are not going to identify her as we do not wish to shame publicly the country in which she is working – Ed.

Today I decided to tackle one of the jobs that had long been on my “To Do” list: convert our UK driving licences to local ones.  The website states that this is a simple process.  So with that in mind I headed down to the Ministry.

It is possible to pay someone to go and convert your UK driving licence for you, but the going rate is about £55 so I decided that I would do it myself.  As the only female and the only foreigner in the area I was somewhat of an oddity (no change there!).  But people were very helpful in pointing me to the correct queues to stand in.  The process requires a number of steps, all of which can be expedited by paying a middleman extra money to push your paperwork to the front of the queue.  But I decided that I did not want any special privileges – I am often uncomfortable with the way a foreigner will/can queue jump while nationals are expected to patiently let them through.  So I dutifully joined the line.

There were many different steps in the process, which involved various trips up and down the stairs of the building and into different offices to get my papers stamped.  At one point there was a little confusion as to whether my husband had to be present for his medical to be signed off (he didn’t) and as to whether we needed to take a driving test (phew, we didn’t).

All went smoothly, if at a rather pedestrian pace, and I made friends with the others in the queue alongside me, until I had to head upstairs for the Big Man to sign off my licence.  I presented him with all the paperwork required and he asked me questions about what we were doing here and then demanded letters from the different hospitals I have worked in and from our local employer, all of which I knew were not really required.  When I left his office (with unsigned papers) the man next to me explained that he had been wanting me to pay a “facilitation fee” to complete my licence.

This is something we do not do.  I was rather unsure how to proceed after this.  However, the doctor who had completed my medical form was affronted on my behalf at being asked to pay more than I should and he decided to act as an advocate for me, stating that I would not get the licence without his help.  This basically involved him escorting me back to the Big Man’s office and speaking up for me – to a somewhat humbled official!  As a result after a further 5 different office visits (a total of 12 different stages) and 4 hours later I left with two new driving licences.

This it was an important lesson for me – the feeling of helplessness in the face of power and bureaucracy and even though I knew I was in the right, I was powerless to change the situation.  My naivety at trying to be treated just the same as locals when unfortunately in this country my skin colour affords me both privilege and extra hassles!  The realisation that the lower down office workers helpfully completed their jobs, with no fuss or demands, however, those with the power often use this to their own advantage and abuse their position.

I was so thankful to the kind young doctor who spoke up against this for me.  Without him I think I would have left empty handed.  Indeed many of my friends have since told me of their 5 day efforts to get a licence or being made to take a driving test  – all because they too would not pay a bribe.  This situation is a sad reality replicated across many countries in so many situations.  Those in power often wield it unevenly.  The services they should provide equitably often become only available to those with a friend in the right places or with the money to pay, leaving those who are low down in society, the poor and uneducated, without a voice to speak out and needing someone who will advocate for them.

An interesting ebook on Bribery and the Bible is available from

Who are the real believers?

The Injil (New Testament) is a Holy Book of Islam

The Injil (New Testament) is a Holy Book of Islam

We mentioned previously the conference on contextualisation held last month, and I’d like to follow up by wading into the debate on what happens when muslims find faith in Jesus.

In parts of the world where there is a dominant non-Christian culture, notably but not only Islam, it has become common in recent years for some people who find faith in Jesus to stay within their socio-religious communities.  They may still attend the mosque and call themselves muslims (or muslim followers of Jesus).  This is not necessarily because they fear persecution (they may well get that anyway) but because the community is so tight and hostility to Christianity so strong, that they would lose family, friends, social networks and the ability to earn money or even buy food.  By remaining within their community, even though they hold unorthodox beliefs, they maintain their support structures and, crucially, the opportunity to witness to their families and neighbours.

Some Christians think that these ‘insiders’ cannot possibly be real Christians, and that if they were, they should leave their communities, join a church, call themselves Christians and take the resulting persecution.

A biblical case study of relevance would be the early Jerusalem church.  While clearly self-identifying as followers of Jesus (or The Way), they still considered themselves Jews, attended temple services and kept the law.  They were, in effect, a Jewish sect.  They didn’t stop being Jewish just because they followed Jesus.  While relationships with other sects like the Pharisees and Sadducees were occasionally violent, mostly they co-existed for nearly forty years.  The split began when the Jesus followers didn’t take part in the war against Rome (68-70 AD) and fled en masse to Pella, so their loyalty to Jewish nationalism was impugned.  Eventually, around 85AD the Jews developed a curse on those who split the faith, which forced the Jesus followers out of the synagogues where it formed part of the liturgy.

In other words, the Jewish believers were happy to remain within Judaism until those who rejected Jesus pushed them out of it.  It was the same in the churches Paul visited – they always started with the synagogue until they were expelled.  It may well be the same with muslim-background believers – only time will tell.

Recent research among one particular group of muslim-background believers in Jesus found some startling results.  390 believers in 118 communities (ekklesia) were interviewed.  83.9% met together with other believers at least once a week, mainly in homes.  Most of them are in groups of fewer than ten people and their activities include Bible-reading, prayer, worship and fellowship.  41% of them had come to faith through experiencing dreams or visions of Jesus, or miraculous healings.  57% of them had found faith after being witnessed to by other believers.  Perhaps the most staggering statistic was that 92% of them had shared with non-believers the message of salvation through Jesus alone.

Until the church can match statistics like that, we don’t have the right to claim that they are not ‘proper’ believers.

The Beautiful One

Photo by VinnyPrime from FreeImages

For a number of years, Christians have been amazed at the stories coming out of the Moslem world of people coming to faith in Christ as a result of having seen Jesus in a dream.  They call him ‘The Beautiful One’.  Many of us may have been sceptical at first, but in recent months the number of reports has increased significantly.

Although accurate reports are hard to get hold of, I heard of one church in a central Asian republic where 80% of the believers had come to faith following a dream.  There are stories of Imams having a dream and leading the entire congregation of the Mosque to Christ.  Just visit a well-known video hosting website and key in ‘dreams of Jesus’ and you will see numerous testimonies.  Some reports suggest that Moslems are turning to Christ in greater numbers now than at any time in the 1400 year history of Islam.

Muslims of course are not ignorant of Jesus.  He is one of their great prophets, and it is taught that it will be Jesus who comes back at the end of the age to receive the faithful and inaugurate global Islam.  But they do not expect to find salvation in Jesus.  It should of course be emphasised that receiving a dream about Jesus does not automatically make someone a Christian, or to be more accurate, a Moslem-background believer.  This is only the start of their journey of faith, which may lead them deeper into their Moslem beliefs, as Jesus is revered within their own religious tradition.

Many of the people who receive dreams are not searching for Jesus, and are perfectly content Moslems.  Reports of the dreams make it clear that the dreamers are in no doubt that it is Jesus they are seeing.  They describe him as beautiful, dressed in a white robe and glowing with light.  This figure will be instantly recognisable to Christians familiar with the book of Revelation.  If the Beautiful One talks, he may tell them to follow him, or that their sins are forgiven.  I was given a first-hand report of a mosque in a middle-eastern country where everyone had received a dream.  Yet if you ask them who it was, they will answer ‘The Prophet… or maybe Jesus’, as the risk of openly confessing Jesus is very high.

So why are these visions coming now?  It cannot be a coincidence that in recent years, just as concerted and committed prayer for the countries of the 10/40 window has been coordinated, it has become very hard for outsiders to get into Moslem communities worldwide to preach the gospel openly.  Although many still go undercover, their ability to spread the message is severely restricted.  With the rise of militant Islam, pressure on indigenous believers from Palestine to the Philippines has become heavier.  Church buildings are being burned and believers being martyred.  So the Spirit of God does a new thing, and speaks to Moslems directly when his human followers can’t.  Together with the rise of Christian satellite TV and the internet, the Moslem world has never been so technologically open to the Gospel.  Those who have dreamed of Jesus may find it hard to meet fellow believers, but they can watch TV and surf the net.

How can we help Moslems find Jesus their Saviour?  Above all, prayer.  Prayer opens the way into the darkest places and softens the hardest of hearts.  If you meet a Moslem, you can ask him if he has had a dream of the Beautiful One (don’t say Jesus!) or if he knows of anyone who has.  Gently (remember that persuading someone to change their religion is a crime in many Moslem countries) ask who he thinks it might be.  What does he want to say to the Moslem?  What does he want of him?  Why does he appear now?  Respectful questions will open a channel for the individual to reflect on the dream while not imposing our beliefs on him or disrespecting his traditions.

Please pray:

  • that Jesus will reveal himself to Moslems in all nations, and that they will see him for who he really is;
  • that the faith of Moslem-background believers will be strong despite the persecution they may face;
  • that Christian mission agencies will be effective in spreading and broadcasting the Gospel and following up.

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!

Guest blog: Mission initiatives in Bulgaria

Celebrations in Bulgarian churches? (source:

This month’s guest blogger is Valentin Kozhuharov, who lectures in missiology at the University of Plovdiv and is a consultant on missions to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Since the changes of 1990 (and before that no religious life was possible in Eastern Europe because of the persecutions the communists systematically carried out against Christians and any other religion), the church in Bulgaria has grown rapidly and fruitfully.

The Orthodox church has mostly been occupied with restoring its internal ecclesiastical life, so mission has not been its main goal of church work, but anyway this church organised a nationwide network of Sunday schools, undertook various charitable activities and started (only in the last 7-8 years) mission in prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes and other social institutions.  It even started “external” mission by sending a priest to South Africa in July 2010 to plant an Orthodox church in Pretoria.

The amount of mission work, which has mostly been done in a bit chaotic way, needed systematisation and theoretical-practical foundations, and in the diocese of Veliko Tarnovo a mission department was opened in January 2010 and a missionary document has been developed: “Principles of mission for the Bulgarian Orthodox church”.  In June 2011 the Principles were considered by the Holy Synod, and now in several diocesan centres the bishops have appointed mission educators to further develop mission strategy in their dioceses and to practically carry out missionary activities.

The evangelical churches in Bulgaria have been more active in the so called “social mission” where they carried out mission work in almost all social institutions in the country dealing with children and the disadvantaged (children’s homes, prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes, hospitals, etc). In many areas the Orthodox church and the evangelical churches have competed with each other in these mission fields, and often they would oppose the mission work of the “other” church; in some instances the Orthodox church used the authority of the state to oust the “sectarian” Christian organisations (as they treated the evangelical churches in the country).

This made Christians of both the Orthodox and the evangelical churches to think, and to come to practical recommendations, about mission of Christian unity where all the churches in the country are able to combine resources and efforts in their God-commanded mission work in society.  In the last two to three years, in many social institutions these Christians work together with the same marginalised and needy people and children.  Still the day when they all will be working together in one spirit and one heart is far away, but a good start has been made.

Valentin Kozhuharov

Bulgarian missionaries take part (and some of them took the leading role) in the newly-established Orthodox Mission Network which aims to increase mission awareness within the Orthodox churches in Europe and to initiate true missions on their territories.  Bulgarian missiologists develop theoretical issues of mission, and for the first time missiology has been taught as a theological discipline since February 2011 in one of the university theological faculties.  These missionaries and missiologists cooperate with many other missionaries and missiologists both Orthodox and non-Orthodox and both in Europe and worldwide.

Please pray:

  • for Valentin as he lectures on missiology and stimulates a passion for outreach among all Bulgarian denominations
  • for the gospel to flourish in Bulgaria
  • for more mission workers, both foreign and local, to train and inspire the church

For more information about praying for Bulgaria visit the World Prayer Map

Enculturation or resistance – a dilemma for Nepali believers

Nepal“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12.14

In a country where 95% of the population is Hindu, we live in an environment where almost all our Nepali neighbours, colleagues and friends are Hindu.  This weekend was Holi, one of the multiple Hindu festivals that punctuate the calendar here on an almost weekly basis.  Like many such festivals, its origins vary greatly, but in Nepal it is associated with the god Krishna who is known for his playfulness and his charm with women.

The festival, appropriately known as the festival of colours, is celebrated by showering friends and family with water and coloured powders.  Excitement builds as brightly coloured water pistols of different sizes appear in the shops.  Many find it hard to wait for the day itself, and for up to 2 weeks beforehand children and teenagers will delight to throw water balloons at unsuspecting passers-by.  Our boys were thrilled when visitors left a gift of two water pistols for them.  We were less thrilled at having to face the issue as to whether or not they should be allowed play Holi, even as several other missionary families from school planned water parties for the day.

These festivals however raise serious questions for many Nepali Christians.  Their frequency and their interwoven-ness with social life here are a significant challenge to separating oneself from Hindu religious practice and ritual, something the church feels is essential to its identity.  Hinduism is a religion that embraces multiple deities, religious teachings and practices, and many Hindus are happy to include Jesus Christ in their pantheon of gurus and leaders.  The church feels it is important to take a stand that clearly reflects their faithfulness to Christ as their one and only Saviour, without the confusion of practices that may have Hindu origins.

Weddings are an example of an occasion that is steeped in Hindu rituals, and thus it is that Christians not only marry in a church ceremony, but that the brides also generally wear a Western style pink or white gown. The fear is that the traditional red and gold wedding sari may carry some significance for Hindu observers and prevent them from clearly distinguishing the Christian faith.  Dashai is the largest Hindu festival in Nepal, lasting several days and involving much animal sacrifice and the exchange of Hindu tikka between family members.  Associated with long holidays and much socializing, non-Christians tend to liken it to our Christmas (we beg to differ!).  But for many Nepali Christians, it is a time of real conflict, feeling isolated from their community and being torn between their family and their faith.  To borrow the allegory, imagine if you as an individual had to choose not to participate in any aspect of the Christmas festivities your friends and family enjoy: the parties, decorations, meals, gifts, let alone the religious ceremonies.  The church is aware of the immense pressure and sense of isolation that many feel at this time, and so usually organises several days of events at churches for Christians to attend and enjoy together, including meals served with meat (butchered, not sacrificed) as a treat.

Some outsiders criticise what they see as the church’s inability to distinguish between cultural and religious practice, and its failure to explore a truly Nepali expression of Christianity.  They fear that this attitude only reinforces the concept that Christianity is a foreign religion and that Nepali Christians are not truly Nepali, an accusation frequently made by Hindu fundamentalists.  But I am not sure that any of us non-Nepalis can fully understand their experience as a minority (at times, persecuted) faith in this country, nor their struggle for recognition in a land where the ‘secular’ government provides massive subsidies for Hindu sites and festivals.  Many Nepali Christians report that even in this day when Nepal is supposed to have freedom of religion, some Christians experience being cut out of their inheritance, denied land that is rightfully theirs, or being thrown out of their families because they have converted.  It is not an easy or light choice that people make, and they usually endure far more than we ever will for their faithfulness to Christ.

So what to do about our boys valid hopes to try out their new water pistols, and join in the water fights and fun outside our apartment for Holi?  At church, we referred the matter to our Nepali pastor, who gently but unwaveringly stated that none of the other children from the church would be playing Holi.  After the service, the church showed a film and provided snacks for the congregation as alternative entertainment for the afternoon.  Our family instead braved the streets again and went home for our ‘traditional’ sabbath nap.  When the boys woke up, the children next door were already out on the empty lot waiting for Mark to start a game of baseball.  Grabbing mitts and bat, the boys headed out, water pistols left lying in our storeroom, waiting for another day.

This blog is an edited version of an article by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal, where she lives with her husband Mark and two sons.  To read the full version, follow this link.

A new approach to reaching young people with the Gospel

A youth event considering the appeal of pornography in society

ICF is an exciting and innovative way of doing church which is growing quickly throughout Europe.

Since the first church was started in Zurich in 1996, the movement has spread rapidly and now has 40 churches in 8 different European countries, mostly in Switzerland, with plans to start up in several other countries.   With a lively worship style, youthful leadership and up to date use of technology, they are attracting a large number of young people wherever they set up.

ICF’s youngest church leader is Christian Gfeller, who started a new church in Schaffhausen just two years ago, which has already grown to some 200 people worshipping  God in three separate Sunday services.  When Syzygy met Christian at a conference recently, he explained that their vision is to bring people back to church by letting them see that church can be dynamic, relevant and contemporary.  This, he believes, is what attracts people who are not accustomed to thinking of church as anything other than old-fashioned, irrelevant and boring.

Christian Gfeller

ICF has a strong ‘corporate identity’ (to use their own words!)which clearly cascades right through the movement.  Quality and fun manage to walk hand in hand.  In their desire to be relevant, they are willing to change things, be experimental, and take risks.  They’re also committed to planting new churches.  By the time a church grows to 350 members, they’re already thinking about moving to multi-site meetings to enable the growth to continue.  This has attracted attention in the Swiss press, which can’t quite get its head around the fact that church can be fun and Christians can have an infectious zest for life.

Surprisingly, the bulk of the church growth has not come from disaffected Christians leaving other churches and joining ICF.  Christian says that only about 10% of the members of his church in Schaffhausen joined from other churches.  Half the members had been churchgoers as children but had long since ceased attending, and the remainder were mainly unchurched.

Asked about the sort of social work that the church does, Christian  explained, The biggest social work we do is offer community. This may well be the key to why ICF is bucking the trend among young people, who research shows are increasingly disinterested in church while becoming more open to exploring their spirituality.  In an age when many young people have to cope with social dislocation and fractured families, offering them a loving and committed Christian community may just be the way to reach a generation for Christ.

You can find out more about ICF at

Students hear the gospel in Bologna

This story came to me from Agape and is too good to waste!

Several months ago, some Christian groups in Bologna (Italy) gave out 10,000 flyers and invited people to a Christian concert.  Not one seeker came at all.  Only a few insiders.  Yet at the end of October, Apollo XVI astronaut Charlie Duke was invited to speak, and crowds of several hundred students came.  Jesse Marco from Bologna reports: ‘We have no words to describe what just happened these last days here in Bologna.  One church planter commented,  Charlie, we have been here 23 years, and never have we seen these kinds of crowds, and never have we seen doors open like this.’

Charlie spoke at the scientific high school where nothing Christian is ever let in the door.  The previous week a 15 year old student had shot himself.  Charlie was able to share his testimony in detail, and part of  his testimony is that his wife was suicidal before she gave her life to Jesus.  He shared that and the students were listening to his every word.  After he had finished with his testimony and closed, the headmaster came up and thanked Charlie for coming and reviewed the main points he shared in his testimony.  Jesse said, ‘WOW!!  Never in our wildest dreams in a school where atheism is their god could we have imagined this would happen.’

In the Astronomy Department of the University of Bologna over 120 students turned up to hear Charlie.  Some had to stand outside the hall listening.  This event was set up by the university and specifically by a man who asked that God shouldn’t even be mentioned.  After speaking, there was a time for questions and answers and the man who said no God asked Charlie to share about the challenges of life after reaching the pinnacle of your career at age 36.  Then that night at dinner, he told Charlie again to make sure he talked about his personal life.

Jesse writes:  ‘On Tuesday evening we met for dinner with all the university officials who were responsible for the evening.  As we walked into the room which seats 300, it was standing room only again.  Charlie walked into the hall I was behind him and had not seen the crowd yet.  We then heard a very loud applause and were overwhelmed as were the school officials.  He opened his talk by thanking Agape Italia for bringing him to Bologna.  This was in a room with many students.  We are so thankful for all God did and again the doors this opened for all of us here in Bologna.’

Please pray that Agape team in Italy and associated churches in Bologna would be able to follow up their many contacts from this event.

Pray for the many students who have head a Christian testimony for the first time.

Pray for the ministry of Charlie as he shares his testimony around the world.  You can read more about him at

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

Story of the month – business as usual in India

This month I thought you’d like to read this very ordinary and down to earth progress report from an evangelist in India.  He doesn’t waste time embellishing it, he just tells it like it is:


1. How many new House Churches were planted?   109

2. Training Seminars – how many? 33

How many participants? 1132

3. How many Baptisms:  2639

Little Stories:

  • Sister Y accepted the Lord last year and has been reunited with her husband after 7 years of separation.
  • BS’s young daughter who suffered from chronic asthma was healed as God’s people prayed for her in April 2010 at a Conference.
  • HS wept with joy as he was given 60 Bibles for distribution in his House Churches. He reports that Children in his House Churches are reading Stories from the Bible to their illiterate Parents and Grand Parents.
  • M who suffered a stroke and could not walk was healed as God’s people prayed. Today one can hardly tell if she had a stroke at all.


(1) New Believers: 8000

(2) Baptisms: 8000

(3) New House Churches : 800

Please pray for the safety of this dynamic man as he ministers.

Pray for those who hear his message, and for the safety of those who respond.

Pray that others would be inspired to spread the gospel.

Pray that he’ll exceed his target for the current six months!

Story of the month – Chinese Government warms to Christians?

Chinese believers in an unregistered church (China Daily)

Several recent articles in the authoritative website China Daily have prompted observers to wonder if the Chinese government may be softening its traditionally tough stance against Christians.  The official government daily has published a number of positive articles about Christianity during the last six months and while it must be remembered that they may merely be part of a ‘charm offensive’ (particularly since none of the articles were published in the Chinese language version of the paper), they are published in an official government organ and will have been scrutinised by censors.

The most significant of these articles (25th December) concerned an official report for the government in which the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists (CASS) estimated that there are now over 70 million Chinese who are members of unregistered churches.  Add these numbers to the Catholic Church and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement church and this is the first time that there has been an official estimate that there are now over 100 million Christians in China.  In 1979, when the TSPM church was relaunched after the Cultural Revolution, there were only about one million.   One western commentator remarked that it is unthinkable that an article like this has slipped past the censors unnoticed, and therefore this must be an indication of a change of government policy.

Miao Christian choir (China Daily)

Another article (17th March) talks about how house churches are thriving in Beijing.  It states that there are now over 50,000 Christians in Beijing, and as the registered churches are often overcrowded, many people are joining smaller unregistered churches where they can connect more effectively.  The article even quotes Cao Zhongjian, an expert on religion in China at CASS, as saying “The authorities have a much more open attitude toward discussion and debate on house churches.”  This has led to freedom for the churches to acquire premises or rent permanent locations.  This is all a far cry from even a few years ago when reports of serious oppression of Chinese Christians were commonplace.

Other publications include a positive article about influential Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, reference to a thriving church in Shanghai, a report about a village in Yunnan province where 80% of the villagers are Christians, and (amazingly) the testimony of how a young Beijing believer found Jesus after being given a Bible by a colleague.

Chinese choir (China Daily)

Story of the month – Salvation in Serbia

This cute little boy is Igor.  He wasn’t always so cheerful.  During the Serbian war, Igor and his family had to flee their home, and ended up with hundreds of others sleeping rough in a half-complete school building which became an ad hoc refugee camp.  Traumatised by the event, he withdrew, and became known throughout the camp as the child who never smiled.

Some while later, some Christians from Belgrade Bible School began a regular ministry to the refugees.  They built up relationships and helped whoever they could.  One day they asked Igor’s parents if they could take him on a children’s camp they were organising, along with his brothers and sisters and other children from the refugee camp.  His parents agreed.

When the children came back, people didn’t recognise Igor.  They thought he looked familiar, but they didn’t know him.  Only after a few days did somebody work out what the difference was – his cheeky grin!  When they asked him why he smiled so much, he told them that he’d met Jesus.

Belgrade Bible School has hundreds of similar stories of what God has done in the lives of Serbian people.  Since its beginning in 1996 amid the death throes of Yugoslavia, it has sent out church planters and evangelists all over Serbia.  They have endured much hardship and struggle, but the gospel is prevailing.  Please pray for them.  Supported by Oak Hall, the well-known organiser of Christian expeditions, the bible college is under Serbian leadership and continues to grow and develop.

Read more about Belgrade Bible College:

Visit the Bible College with Oak Hall:

Story of the Month: Thousands of new Thai believers

This story was published in “CrossTies Asia” January 2010 newsletter) so it’s not new, but it’s too good not to recirculate.  My Hope for Thailand was an outreach event which took place in December 2009.  Here’s what the organisers reported:

“On this day about 50% of Thai churches participated and more than 41,000 of their members were involved in reaching out to over 200,000 of their friends and neighbours to tell them about Jesus. We now have the responsibility of calling the church leaders to find out what God did during this time.  The news is exciting!  We have recorded over 6,580 decisions of people who have decided to become Christ followers, from all corners of the country.  We anticipate by the time we finish calling all the leaders we will have recorded more than 12,000 new Thai Christians. This is an amazing work of God in a land where only half a percent of Thailand’s 65 million people are Christians. This is the first time there has been a national harvest of this size in this country. As we are calling, our staff also has the privilege of documenting miraculous works of God that happened during these meetings.  Each of our staff members has recorded dozens of reports of healings, people freed from demon possession, people being freed from addictions and families being reconciled.”

Please pray for these new Thai believers as they face the challenge of walking with Jesus in a Buddhist-animist culture.

Baptism of Thai believers (photos courtesy of Julia Birkett)