September 17, 2014
2012: LMCO Week of Prayer
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WEEK OF PRAYER: Pastor's passion for missions pushes fear aside
WEEK OF PRAYER: Called to action
People may debate politics, sports and theology, but there comes a time to heed Christ's call to action "among the many who do not know the one true source of peace," Wanda Lee of Woman's Missionary Union writes.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Doctor's Rx for suffering centers on Jesus
CENTRAL ASIA (BP) -- Flies circle the sparsely equipped operating room in remote Central Asia. One lands on an instrument tray, strutting the length of a scalpel seconds before the previously sterile instrument slices beneath skin of Jalal Hossein*.
"Allah!" the 28-year-old mullah (Islamic teacher) moans through a haze of local anesthesia that has failed to kill the pain. The lead surgeon calls for more light, but three of the four bulbs in the operating room's lamp are burned out. Cutting-edge medicine it's not. But at the moment, the hospital -- and Hossein -- have at least one advantage: the man behind the scalpel is Dr. Doug Page*, one of the finest thoracic surgeons in the country. "Put that bad boy in there," Page coaches a national colleague who is attempting to insert a catheter into the protective sac surrounding Hossein's heart. These are teachable moments for Page, 56, a soft-spoken, Southern Baptist doctor who came to this rugged corner of Central Asia with his wife Alice* to be Jesus' heart, hands and voice among a people in desperate need of physical and spiritual healing. It's a brutal place to practice medicine, let alone share the Gospel. "There are so many walls here," Page says. "There are walls around every house and there are barriers between families. ... There's fighting between villages and tribes. This isn't just fisticuffs fighting -- this is blowing up homes, setting booby-trapped mines, children being maimed, crops being burned, livestock stolen. It's ruthless." During the past several years, Page has scrubbed in for hundreds of surgeries at the hospital. The facility, with 60-plus beds, is dirty and poorly equipped. But as the largest of only three hospitals in an area more than twice the size of the state of Georgia, it's also the best chance of good health care for more than 350,000 people who call this province home. That's roughly one doctor for every 15,000 individuals. Though those numbers are staggering, Page believes the need for the Gospel is even greater. Islam dominates the religious landscape. Estimates place the number of Christians here at fewer than 2,000, and most national believers are forced to keep their faith a secret. Hardship and risk Obedience to God's call hasn't come without sacrifice. By 7 a.m. the next day, Page is eager to begin morning rounds at the hospital. But first he swings by the office to check email. "Just another day in paradise," he jokes with his driver, Farooq* ...
WEEK OF PRAYER: 'How on earth am I going to explain this to my wife?'
CENTRAL ASIA (BP) -- The first time Doug Page* set foot in the remote Central Asian town where he was sent to serve Christ, a single question echoed through his mind: "How on earth am I going to explain this to my wife?"
WEEK OF PRAYER: Lottie Moon 100 years on
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- She died on board a ship 100 years ago Christmas Eve -- sick, exhausted, brokenhearted over leaving her beloved Chinese friends in their time of suffering.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Faith takes root in the land of Timbuktu
NIAMEY, Niger (BP) -- Timbuktu. The name inspires images of far-away lands, mythical realms and immense wealth. Many people are unaware the city actually exists.
Timbuktu was among a myriad of splendid cities within the Songhai Empire, which ruled most of central West Africa for more than two centuries, supported by a flourishing trade in gold and salt. "They were a rare combination of military and mystic might," says John Smythe*, an IMB missionary who's been working among the Songhai of Niger since 2006. They had great warriors along with sorcerers and magicians who claimed to control the spirits, including those of the Niger River, Smythe recounts. Ruled by a dynasty of Muslim kings, the empire expanded through a combination of pragmatic politics and holy war. The meteoric rise of the empire was matched by its sudden invasion and downfall in 1591. Today's Songhai are mainly subsistence farmers, coaxing millet and rice out of the clay of the river valley. It's a land of flat-topped hills and wide washed-out valleys, with deep rain-cut channels between. Pale red clay and dark brown stone contrast oddly, like a bizarre sand painting. "Community is life" Songhai villages consist of mud-brick houses; walls surround spacious, if bare, yards. Trash litters the streets -- there is no other place for it. Animals wander wherever acacia fences do not keep them out. Village life is highlighted by scent. The heat bakes out the odor of moist sand and green growth. The smell of sweat and wood smoke is prevalent. "Community is life" to the Songhai, Smythe says. "They understand that tomorrow 'I might not have enough rice to feed my family, so I'd better rely on the community.'" While officially Muslim, the Songhai generally practice animism -- alongside daily prayers and reciting the Quran. "There's still spirit-possession ceremonies. ... They are involved in all sorts of witchcraft," Smythe says. Less than 1 percent of the Songhai are Christian.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Persecution reflects faith's authenticity
NORTHERN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (BP) -- Nik and Ruth Ripken* have served in some of the toughest areas of Africa. They've known believers who have been martyred for Christ. They've spoken with hundreds of Christians experiencing persecution in more than 70 countries. After all that, they've learned something about persecution. "The most persecuted person is a lost person who has no access to Jesus," Nik says. "Satan wants to keep people from hearing about Jesus. If he can't do that, he wants to shut you up, to silence your witness." Most American Christians fall into the second category. They experience no persecution because they tell no one about Jesus. Yet persecution of Jesus' true followers has been normal from New Testament times to the present day. The No. 1 cause -- when people come to know Jesus. The key is how to make persecution count for God's glory, as the early Christians did. The Ripkens learned that truth the hard way. They served in South Africa and Kenya after sensing a call from God in the early 1980s. They experienced the drama -- and trauma -- of ministry amid racial apartheid, religious and tribal tensions and other challenges. But nothing prepared them for their next place of service: Somalia. The overwhelmingly Muslim East African nation was wracked by civil war, chaos and danger in the 1990s, as it is today. Loss and sacrifice "We fed the hungry. We clothed the naked. We were shot at. We buried a 16-year-old son," Nik recounts, referencing the death of their son from an asthma attack in Kenya on an Easter Sunday. And they watched helplessly as nearly 150 Muslim-background followers of Christ in Somalia were martyred. Four of their closest friends died on a single, terrible day in 1994. The horror continued, and the Ripkens and other workers were forced out in 1998. They have not been able to return. The Ripkens realized that many of these martyrs died not just for following Christ, but for being openly identified with outside Christian agencies. Thus began their long-term effort to understand the nature of persecution and how God works through it. Trying to stop it in every case or "rescue" every believer experiencing it is a misunderstanding of religious freedom, they contend.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Beijing's masses keen for relationships
BEIJING (BP) -- Beijing is an urban center peopled by the rich, politically privileged -- and utterly poor.
Outwardly, it's strikingly modern with its Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium and rapidly expanding state-of-the-art subway system. It's ancient, too, with the Forbidden City of Imperial China at its heart. It's blatantly communist with the Soviet-styled Great Hall of the People set in the city center - yet capitalist with posh shopping areas shimmering with luxury designer goods nearby. It's also a magnet, drawing people from throughout the country as they flow in from provinces seeking employment and a better life. Thomas*, a Christian worker in Beijing, sees the drawing power of the capital city as a strategic place for reaching into China's provinces with the Gospel message. "Beijing is a city that breathes people," Thomas reflects. "Every day hundreds of thousands of people travel in and out of the city. At peak times there are more than a million travelers per day. Some stay only a few days, yet others stay much longer. "A few who come are already Christians from two strong Christian areas of China -- Henan and Anhui. Most are not and know more about Coca-Cola than Christ," Thomas continues. "Whether they come as tourists, on business or looking for some kind of employment, we want all who enter the capital of the Middle Kingdom to learn of the eternal Kingdom and the Emperor who died on a cross for them," Thomas says. Unprecedented growth When Beijing's population hit 19 million in late 2009, it had already surpassed the government's target to keep the capital's population below 18 million until the year 2020. Government officials are searching for ways to slow the city's growth, as infrastructure can't keep up with the surging population, which has now reached more than 20 million. "The size of Beijing doesn't intimidate me," Thomas says. "It's not a mass of humanity. You learn to read it socio-demographically ... once you get above a million, it doesn't really make a difference. You look at where you have the relationships." China is riding the same wave of urbanization as the rest of the globe. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 nearly 70 percent of the world's 10 billion people will be living in cities, up from only 30 percent living in cities in 1950. A similar scenario is occurring in China but -- as in its economic and industrial development -- at a much more rapid pace.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Beijing's young adults become U.S. couple's focus of outreach
"God is preparing people and putting them in our path. And it's just amazing."
-- Christian worker in Beijing
BEIJING (BP) -- When Steve* was diagnosed with prostate cancer just before he and his wife Lisa* were planning to move to China, some friends took it as a sign.
WEEK OF PRAYER: Nepalese believer 'ready' for God's call
KATHMANDU, Nepal (BP) -- No one wanted to hear his words, Agni Amrit* says, hanging his head so low it almost rests on his checkered tie.
Amrit asked 10 people in Kathmandu, Nepal, if he could share a story about his God. Everyone he approached told him to scat. No one wanted to hear about another God -- they already have plenty in Hinduism. Drew Neely*, an IMB representative and church planting trainer, repeats what Amrit has told him. Amrit nods.
"I hope that gives you joy," Neely says, pausing for Amrit to meet his gaze. "Brother, when those 10 people rejected you, you shared in the suffering of Christ and that should be cause for rejoicing."
WEEK OF PRAYER: One man's trash is another's treasure
CAIRO (BP) -- A wise man builds his house upon rock; a foolish man builds his house upon sand. On the outskirts of Cairo, approximately 300 people have built their houses upon trash.
But amid the stench and squalor of shifting garbage, God is building a church on a firm foundation. Desperate for shelter on the outskirts of Cairo, residents use whatever they can find -- sheets of tin and discarded cardboard -- to create makeshift residences within this garbage village. For more than 20 years, families living here have collected trash from area homes and businesses to make some cash. It is estimated that the 17 million people of greater Cairo throw away 13,000 tons of garbage every day. Men rise early in the mornings to gather refuse and transport it back to their community in weathered pickup trucks or overflowing carts pulled by horses or donkeys. Some businesses bring the garbage to them. "Society looks down [on us]," says Joseph,* 31, who has lived in this slum for 14 years. "The smell is not good, the environment is not good." Regardless, he says, he has a message for fellow residents in one of Egypt's poorest areas: "You are not garbage." Family business Joseph's family moved to this garbage village from Asyut, Egypt, when he was 15. His father was a garbage collector and believed relocating closer to Cairo would offer more job opportunities. Believing education was key to a better future, Joseph was determined to go to school. His parents sent him back to Asyut to live with his grandmother during the school year until he finished high school. It was during his teens that Joseph began attending a Bible study. As he read the Scriptures, Joseph felt God transforming his life -- in more ways than one. He realized his worth in Christ was greater than his circumstances in the dump. At 18, he became a believer and the study group leader began mentoring him. He also began attending a nearby seminary. It was around this time that a neighborhood girl caught Joseph's eye. Hiba*, who was born and raised in the garbage village, was a Christian when she met Joseph at a home Bible study. The two dated for five years before marrying. As Joseph studied the Bible, the verses about God choosing the poor of the world to shame the rich resonated with him. Though he and Hiba had dreams of bettering their circumstances, God made it clear He wanted them to serve among their community. "God put in my heart to build a church here," Joseph says. "That has been my dream since [becoming a believer] 10 years ago." First worship service In June 2011, Joseph saw his dream realized. He and several other believers began building a church from discarded cinderblocks and mud. A local Egyptian Baptist church heard about the undertaking and offered leadership and financial support. On Dec. 30, 2011, the church held its first worship service under a partial roof. Since that first service, three people have prayed to receive Christ. This gives Southern Baptists reason to celebrate. Southern Baptist workers in North Africa and the Middle East are training Joseph and local pastors in outreach and evangelism and providing them with needed resources to support church plants.
WEEK OF PRAYER: BE His hands, His voice
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Nepalese pastors brave threats and bombs to see Christ's name glorified in the Himalayas. Believers in West Africa bury a Christian woman, uniting in a strong witness to the Songhai community that refused her a proper burial.
WEEK OF PRAYER: 'I've wondered if there was something else out there'
SOUTH AMERICA (BP) -- Grace, a member of one of the indigenous tribes of South America, speaks with intensity about the future of her people. There are outsiders who would keep them in something of a museum -- as living history, she says -- stuck in a time that has not been a reality for generations.
WEEK OF PRAYER: South African youth turn from despair
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (BP) -- It's hard not to be happy around 12-year-old Olwetu. She greets visitors with an infectious smile and sparkling eyes. Usually surrounded by friends, the outgoing South African seventh-grader is constantly smiling, laughing and talking.
But this is not typical behavior among Olwetu's peers -- hopeless is the best word to describe youth from the nation's Xhosa minority in the slums of Cape Town. Most young people here must deal with a myriad of issues -- abuse, violence, drugs, gangs, rape, loss of one or both parents, poor education, HIV/AIDS, poverty. These problems have far-reaching tentacles affecting every family in the township. "We began to see students that were asking ... 'What do I do when I've been raped by my uncle?' 'What do I do when my father and mother are abusing me?' 'I don't have any food at home.' 'My mom and dad don't have work.' 'My mom and dad are dead and I live with my aunt,'" said Bruce Erickson, a Southern Baptist missionary in Cape Town. "There are so many kids that live in such difficult situations without hope. They don't see a future for themselves here in South Africa. They don't see a future for themselves in their homes." Originally from California, Erickson and his wife Sheri have served in South Africa for nearly four years; they have three children, one of whom is in the U.S. attending college. Focused on reaching Xhosa youth in Cape Town with the love of Christ, the Ericksons use their educational skills to interact with the students at their schools. Thirty percent of South Africa's population is age 15 and under, compared to only 13 percent in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health care issues in the U.S. and abroad. "What an incredible opportunity for us to reach a huge part of this population and really have a chance to impact a nation for Christ," Sheri said. The Ericksons lead a project for OneLife, an International Mission Board initiative to connect students in the United States with missions projects around the world. The Cape Town project's goal is to minister to South African learners -- primary and secondary school students. "We teach life orientation classes, which is sex education, character building, being a good citizen and also learning how to deal with bullies and gangs and abuse -- different things that the kids would face in their life," said Sarah Cowan, a journeyman missionary from South Carolina. She and Michal Mitchell, a journeyman from Illinois, have been assisting the Ericksons in the youth ministry. "After school, we have leadership clubs or girls [and boys] clubs, worship services...
He helps Zambians care for AIDS patients
LUSAKA, Zambia (BP) -- Troy Lewis' deep, melodic voice is brimming with emotion as he talks about the people of Zambia.       The IMB missionary's heart became burdened for sub-Saharan Africa during his college and seminary studies.

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