Director's Update - Apr 2014

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings. I want to thank you again for your faithfulness in standing with us in friendship, prayer and support.

In early March, a small number of executive directors and board chairpersons of nine like-minded mission organisations met for three days in Malaga, Spain, to pray for one another and to explore collaborative efforts. I believe many good things will come because of this gathering. When leaders of different mission agencies meet and pray for the same thing, there is a sense of unity and anticipation, a sense of the Holy Spirit knitting us together in a unique bond of fellowship, a sense of wanting to be on the same page in seeking first the Kingdom of God. 

I was moved by the Holy Spirit to see them not as competitors but as fellow colleagues in the Kingdom’s work, each working hard to reach the lost with the Gospel and to hasten the Master’s return. Being new to the group, I have so much to learn from the fine examples of these godly leaders. Remember to pray for us as we meet again in September—this time with the senior executives of our organisations—to take our discussions to a practical level.

Thanks for reading and praying through this report. 

By His grace,

Lawrence

 

evangelism

Egypt: Reportedly, over one million Egyptians have left Islam in the past year, creating a spiritual vacuum and amazing opportunities for believers to witness. In one main city, believers organised a Love March on a main street as a witness to the Gospel. Gathering at a main intersection, they spread out and went from car to bus, handing out Bibles—a very risky step of faith. Eventually the police came; however, their only objection was that the group had parked vehicles holding more Bibles in such a way that blocked traffic. Would they kindly park on the sidewalk (forbidden!) to solve the problem? They distributed 1,000 Bibles on the first day and over 1,400 the following day.

One Muslim woman passing by in a taxi, stopped to help in distribution. “We need more of these—and you—in our country,” she said. An angry Muslim attempted to grab and destroy Bibles. The young believers said, “Here you are, a Muslim, destroying one of the books spoken of with reverence in the Qur’an! Shall we report you to be arrested?” The man ran away.

Young Christians boldly handed out dates to a crowd, customary for ending the daily fast during Ramadan. Two dates and a Bible portion were in each small bag given out. A passing Muslim pointed out that it needed to be an odd number of dates, such as three or five, so the team added one to each package.

They then moved in front of a mosque frequented by the Muslim Brotherhood, some of whom were impressed by the believers’ lack of fear and thus accepted the gift bags. Overall, 60,000 Bibles were distributed nationally in the past year. Egyptian believers have a goal of distributing two million Bibles in the next five to ten years. 

Philippines: The Batak inhabit a series of river valleys along the 50 km stretch of coastline northeast of Puerto Princesa. The Batak are a highly mobile people but, at the behest of the government, have since settled in small villages. As animists, the Batak make regular offerings to the spirits of nature, whom they believe reside in large rocks and trees. “Due to rapid depopulation, restricted forest access, sedentary living, incursion of immigrants, poor sanitation and accessibility to health services, there are only about 300 pure Batak remaining today,” said OM Field Leader Sally Ababa. “They are a vanishing tribe.”

From 8–12 April, OM will host a short-term missions conference in Puerto Princesa where participants will run a Tribal Youth Retreat and follow-up outreach in three communities from 13–26 April. “Five of the 40 families in the community attend church regularly,” continued Sally. In Tagnaya, the church building was washed away by Typhoon Haiyan, and efforts to rebuild the church at a higher location are underway. The third outreach is amongst the Badjaos of Roxas, a mainly Islamic tribal group of whom less than 2 per cent are believers after a decade of work among them. Except for Roxas, all outreach areas are accessible by foot, with several river crossings or by motorcycle, weather permitting. Pray for the beginnings of new churches.

Chile: Every week, the OM evangelism group goes on the street to reach people with the gospel. Recently, they performed a flash mob in Plaza de Armas, singing ‘Cuán Grande es Dios’ (‘How Great is our God’). Israel Collao, a Chilean volunteer and ministry leader, shares: “A young man approached and sat on the floor to listen. I sat next to him to talk. His life had been very difficult. He had received Christ in prison and knew the significance of a relationship with God. He understood that without God he was nothing, but still he had not renewed his step of faith. Yet now the man made a decision, because he knew that in this moment God was speaking to his heart.” 

 

relief & development

Logos Hope: For years, Ajan Walaipon has regularly been spending time in a place others would avoid: a dump. This ‘garbage community’ in Bangkok, Thailand, is known as Kokaya. Ajan shows up every Wednesday morning to teach English to women; on Saturdays, she teaches children. Despite her advanced age, her dedication did not go unnoticed by Logos Hope crewmembers who had the opportunity to serve with her recently. Raina Lee (South Korea) was inspired by Walaipon saying, “She did everything and she is more than 70 years old. Wow! She has energy and passion. I want to be like that.” The team from Logos Hope set up a programme with songs and games and provided special school packs filled with practical items to help the children’s English learning. Raina knows the kids are in good hands. “She really loves the children and I can feel her heart in the programme,” Raina explained. “She has a passion for this work. It touched my heart.”

Syria: In the past two years, more than 100,000 people have died and two million have fled the country as a result of civil unrest. Many struggle to survive as the economy has ground to a halt. There are over five million internally displaced people; around seven million are in need of humanitarian aid inside Syria alone. All this has created a huge spiritual hunger and opportunities for Christians to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.

Many have fled the fighting zones and have nothing to return to. Team members and local believers have been helping those in need with food packets, winterisation packs, and Bibles. One pastor in a conflict area asked for 2,000 New Testaments because they had run out. They encountered some opposition from Orthodox priests, even to the point of beatings. Yet in the last 18 months it has led to over 30 born-again believers meeting together as a church.

What might God want to do through you? It probably will start by intentionally getting to know a Muslim near you. In humility, ask them to witness to you. Seek to earnestly learn and appreciate their worldview. This will drive out prejudices you might not even be aware you hold. Pray for Muslims—and for your role in their lives. Pray about how you should give to support workers amongst Muslims. Invest in strategic engagement that will make a real difference in real people’s lives. 

And what about going? The number one reason Muslims come to faith in Christ, regardless of the cost, is knowing a Christian living nearby.

We need to send thousands of workers who will become part of the social fabric in the Muslim world, holding real jobs and participating in community living. And we need to rid ourselves of the xenophobia within us and welcome the thousands of Muslim families moving to our cities. 

 

church planting

Algeria: It is impossible to comprehend what is happening in Algeria apart from a mighty move of the Holy Spirit and years of patient intercession and sowing of the Word. People from all walks of life are coming to Christ in numbers that church leaders cannot keep pace with. Conversions and miracles are testified and there is an enormous hunger to be trained and discipled. Believers have been set free from fear and their zeal and compassion is felt across the land.

The growth of the Algerian church in the past decade—encircled by Muslim unrest and antagonism toward Christians in North Africa—is truly miraculous. There are at least 75,000 believers in Algeria today and the number is growing. At least 3,500 believers are baptised every year. The number of churches, house churches and groups is impossible to count. 

The Kabyles have their own language but, as Muslims, have been forced to pray in Arabic, which most of them don’t understand. It is a revelation for them to come to church where they can sing, pray and listen to God’s Word—all in their mother tongue. The teaching is very clear and strong about faith, fasting, praying, witnessing, loving and the Word of God. They believe in the God of the Bible. These believers totally love Jesus. Please pray for the believers and the growth of the church in Algeria. 

Zimbabwe: The Doma people live in Kanyemba, in the Zambezi Valley. Many go to fields or mountains to look for food. Some children as old as 10 do not wear any clothes as a manifestation of abject poverty. Quizzed on what he knew about Jesus, Tarabuku answered that he had heard that He was a good man, but that He prohibits smoking or drinking alcohol. He added that his people believed in God, whom they worship through offerings and appeasement of ancestral spirits.

The Dema find subsistence difficult. Previously, they lived in caves, hunting and gathering food. Unfortunately, the Dema are not allowed to hunt anymore. Often harassed by game rangers, they run from strangers. Neighbouring tribes steal Dema women because they are regarded as safe from HIV and AIDS, since theirs is a closed society. Austere hunger and starvation is ever present. They exist on land that could be productive if put to good use with the right skills and equipment. Chief among their physical needs is training in farming, food aid, clothing and help with school fees for their children.

The Dema are difficult to reach with the Gospel, trapped in the worship of ancestors. Pray for insight and strategies for OM and churches to proclaim and demonstrate God’s power in their midst. 

 

justice

South Africa: In 2013, the AIDS Hope team realised a grim truth at the Mamelodi City Dump: dead babies found in plastic bags are not uncommon. Life is harsh for many in Mamelodi, the largest township of Pretoria with one million residents. Sometimes killing their baby seems the only solution for many women. However, the team and Bophelong Community Centre envisioned another solution for desperate women: the baby safe.

The initiative of the AIDS Hope team, a donation and a willing local church got the project off the ground. Babies are received at the Bophelong Community Centre, and taken to ABBA House, which seeks to find a loving family for each child.

Making sure pregnant women knew about this option was equally important. The Ford Motor Company supplied posters, flyers and staff to help OM workers talk to women at clinics and schools.

AIDS Hope also spoke on local radio about the baby safe, encouraging desperate mothers to not just drop their babies at the safe and leave, but rather take them inside and receive support in their decision as well as provide the baby with a history. It also allows ABBA House to retrieve important medical information so that the baby can be best cared for.

In one instance, a mother and father brought their baby inside and explained their desperation. They loved their child but had no way to care for her and wanted to give her up for adoption. The counsellors offered assistance and connected them to a social worker, which enabled them to keep the child.

AIDS Hope leader Alma Leonard explains, “To me, the best part is that the community can take ownership of this, which makes it sustainable.” So far eight babies have been saved through the campaign and baby safe. Please pray for the situation of desperate mothers in South Africa, and that the lives of future babies will be saved.

 

mentoring & discipleship

Kazakhstan: The republic, less than 25 years old, was a former Soviet state where Christianity was ruthlessly suppressed. OM has been working there since its inception. A long-term worker shares about the surprising effect of the Gospel on the language of the Kazakhs. Twenty years ago, there was no word for ‘sorry’ in Kazakh. One of the country’s poets had coined a word, but no one actually used it. 

Then foreigners came who wanted to speak Kazakh, and they needed the word for ‘sorry’ when they made blunders in the language, bumped into people by accident or offended the culture in some way. Struggling to meet the foreigners’ request, language helpers dug out the old word meaning ‘to forgive’. They worked out what ‘forgive me’ would be, and the foreigners started using it—all the time.

Eventually, locals had to respond to this strange phenomenon and realised that the Bible supported all this ‘sorry-ing’! The first time a friend had to say it she hesitated, experiencing an internal battle: “Say it.” “No, I can’t.” “You have to.” “OK…s…s…sorry!” Eventually the word spread from foreigners to believers and then to the rest of society. Now the word is part of everyday language.

Most Christians are first-generation believers who’ve been brought up without using the word for ‘sorry’, unaware of how refreshing forgiveness can be. We’re here to model a humble attitude, a readiness to apologise—even in an honour-shame culture, where you aren’t supposed to admit to being wrong—and the joy of complete forgiveness. 

 

On behalf of all our workers representing over 110 nations in more than 115 countries, I thank you for your prayers and support.

By His grace.

Lawrence Tong
 

* names changed for security reasons

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OM’s role in the Church is to mobilise people to share the knowledge of Jesus and His love with every generation in every nation. OM pioneers and leads initiatives to redeem lives, rebuild communities and restore hope in over 110 countries.

About Director’s Update

lawrence

OM's International Director, Lawrence Tong,  highlights important issues, developments in ministry and concerns for prayer and response worldwide. This monthly report is issued digitally.

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Director’s Update - November 2013


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