World news – Vietnam: pastor attacked


Thugs said to be doing the bidding of local authorities attacked a pastor and his family with iron bars and wooden clubs on October 23, seriously injuring the church leader’s father and other relatives.

Twice on the same Sunday that local authorities disrupted a house church service in Phu Quy village near Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province, a gang of about 20 attacked the father, brother and other family members of pastor Thien An, who was locked in a secure room as his family believed the gang sought to kill him. Police had visited his home the week prior to ‘investigate’ the house church, whose application for registration authorities have twice denied.

Compass Direct

World news – Pakistan: teaching religious intolerance


In November, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a study showing that textbooks in Pakistani schools foster prejudice and intolerance of religious minorities and that most teachers view non-Muslims as ‘enemies of Islam’.

The study reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1-10 in Pakistan’s four provinces, and researchers visited more than 50 schools and interviewed nearly 500 students. Researchers found systematic negative portrayals of religious minorities, specifically Hindus and Christians (which make up 1 and 2% respectively of the population) as ‘inferior or second-class citizens’, as well as instances of historic revisionism designed to denigrate non-Muslims and foster the sense that Pakistan’s Islamic identity was under threat.

Leonard Leo, chairman of USCIRF, said: ‘Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability and global security’.

Religion Today

Welcome home? Ten things we can do to help a missionary on home assignment


Missionaries on home assignment have many responsibilities. They talk to their mission, report to churches, reconnect with their home church, contact supporters, deal with health issues, see family and maybe get some holiday. This article is not addressed to them!

But we all want to help the missionaries with whom we have contact. What can we do to help? Maybe our natural reserve holds us back. We knew that they were coming, but we have been busy. Now they are going back next week and we haven’t even spoken. Sounds familiar? If it does, but you don’t want it to happen again, here are some pointers.

1. Be prepared to pay

The missionary may have given up a lot to serve the Lord overseas — things that we can take for granted like a home of our own, our own car, a career, fellowship. If you want to help a missionary, it is going to cost you something: in time, money, effort, loss of something you value. So do count the cost before you offer, but do offer.

2. Think ahead

Put yourself in the shoes of the missionary and think what it must be like for them to come back to the UK. Ask yourself some questions. How long is it since they first left or last visited the UK? What is their personal situation (married, single, children…)? What is their family situation in the UK (parents, siblings, children…)? What kind of ministry do they do? Is it rewarding (humanly speaking) or challenging (or both)? Where do they live? How is it different from here? Your answers will show you what you can do. If you don’t know the answers then ask the missionary (email is wonderful)!

But do it ahead of the time they are coming home — ideally six months ahead, otherwise the missionary will have to be sorting things out for themselves.

3. Home and away

A place to live and transport are the hardest things for a missionary to arrange. If they are going to be home for a year it is possible to rent a place. But can they afford it? If they are serving in Tokyo, rents in Tonbridge may seem very cheap. If they are serving in Peru, the rents in Portsmouth may be unmanageable. Either way it’s hard to sort things out from abroad.

Increasingly missionaries come home for shorter periods. If they are coming for less than six months, then renting will be impractical. What else can you do? Does anyone in your fellowship have a holiday home they might offer to a missionary? Do you know of a church with an empty manse? Can you offer your home while you are away? If you lend your home then things will get broken. A family needs enough space. A single might prefer to live alone but might prefer to share with someone. If a number of moves are unavoidable in their time in the UK then will they need somewhere to store some of their things? Will they need help when they move from one place to another? Who will clean when they leave — perhaps you could offer.

What about getting around? Most missionaries will have to do a lot of travelling, and a lot of it to out-of-the-way places. Any missionary on home assignment really needs access to a car. Car hire is very expensive. Special car hire for missionaries is limited and gets booked up early. Are you a two-car family that could manage with one for a month or just for the weekends? Thinking of changing your car? Why not buy the new one and offer it to the missionary — you can drive the old one till they have finished with the new one! Do you have money in the bank that you could invest for the Lord’s work? Then offer to buy a car for the missionary and sell it when they depart. If you don’t buy too new a car, then it may not lose much value.

4. Be responsible

When you offer help be clear about what you are offering and stick to your offer. If you offer to help by lending a car, be clear about what you will pay for and what you expect the missionary to pay for (think about accidents and breakdowns!). If you offer the use of your home, don’t change your mind. It may be hard to stick to your offer, but it will be harder for the missionary to deal with things if you don’t. Also be prepared to take on responsibility. Don’t assume that it will be done by someone in the mission, or the home church, or the missionary committee. It may not and, if it is, two offers are better than one. Be prepared to take a personal risk: ‘I’ll find you a car somehow — and if not you can have mine!’

5. Fish out of water

They are removed from their normal life. It may be many years since they have lived in the UK for any length of time and they no longer know how things work. Even things that haven’t changed feel odd. Assume that they could need help with anything. Mundane things like choosing clothes will be hard if they have grown used to a different climate and culture. Any issues dealing with authority (local council, education authority, medical issues) may be very hard. Can you help by going shopping with someone, or making some phone calls for them before they get home?

6. Where to go

While on home assignment a missionary should have time off. Usually missionaries don’t have much money. Do you know of cheap offers for days out? Perhaps you can get brochures of things to do in the surrounding area. Can you offer to take a missionary (and their family) for a day out with you? That special thing that you have been wanting to do all year — maybe the missionary family might like to do that — are you prepared to give it up and offer to pay for them instead? Or maybe they would just like to be able to go for a nice walk in the country with company rather than on their own.

7. Offer and ask

Whatever you offer may not be the right thing. Anything that I have mentioned might not be the right thing. Don’t assume you are right. But offer and ask. Say, ‘Can I do this for you or is there something else I can help with?’, ‘Would you like to do something social, or do you need some time to yourself?’ If you want to help, but don’t know what to do, just say, ‘What can I do to help?’

8. Don’t get offended

Missionaries need love. Some missionaries work in places where they have warmth, in relationships and weather. Coming to the UK can feel cold both ways. Some missionaries work in places where they have no fellowship and live among an antagonistic people. They may be crying out for Christian love. Old friends in the UK have moved on and there is no place for the missionary in busy people’s lives. Make time for them. Make opportunities to show warmth. Be prepared to give up your favourite (or important) activity of the week to be with them. Offer hospitality. Offer to host a time when they can invite others. Give of yourself without being offended if the missionary doesn’t respond. Remember that it will often take the missionary a few weeks (or months) to get over their initial culture shock of being in the UK and in that time they need love, even if they are not very loveable!

9. Offer ahead

Think ahead and then offer ahead. Send that email! Think what it will mean to them to have offers of days out, walks in the country, fellowship and love, help with housing and transport and to know that people are thinking of them.

10. End of the assignment

What about the missionary leaving the field? Well it is ‘all of the above’ but more so, and for longer. The returning missionary usually steps off the plane with little money, few possessions and a broken heart. They will most likely have left behind either a rewarding ministry and people that they love or a ministry into which they have poured their lives and seen little fruit. In either case they will be coming to a place that no longer feels like home. Often a missionary comes home ‘honourably wounded’ — emotionally and spiritually. This is a time that a missionary especially needs love and support. Prayer support, financial support, loving support that keeps on going for as long as it is needed.

Can you do all of these things? Of course not! But can you do one of them?

Besom: kindness in a time of austerity


Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth’ (1 John 3.18).

The Besom is an organisation which helps people make a difference. It provides a bridge between those who want to give time, money, skills or things and those who are in need. It ensures that what is given is used effectively. The service is provided free.

The Besom was founded in London in 1987 and now has an expanding network of some 30 local Besoms across the country actively helping church members to reach people in need.

Ethos

The ethos behind Besom is that everyone — whether a student or over 80, whether working full-time, part-time, in between jobs or retired — can get involved.

By giving time, money, skills or things, church members help those who are in real need and make a long-term positive difference to their lives.

There are a number of ways that this can be done. These include giving good quality household items, working with others doing gardening or decorating a home (often in a dreadful condition), giving and helping to sort clothes and kitchen items, offering DIY skills, or cooking meals for families.

Through its relationship with local community workers, such as social workers, health visitors and local hostels, Besom aims to place this giving to those who can really benefit.

The story of the Guildford Besom provides a typical example.

Guildford may seem like a prosperous town, but behind the surface there are many who are vulnerable and in need through isolation, poverty, ill health, homelessness and domestic violence.

Over the last eight years, givers have visited nearly 500 homes in Guildford and the surrounding areas. Their simple acts of kindness have touched many lives. Our hope is that this demonstration of neighbourly love is helping some of the brokenness in our community and laying seeds for God’s kingdom.

How this helps people is seen in the many stories that can be told.

Recently we met a lady with two children, who had come out of a women’s refuge after escaping domestic violence. She told us: ‘It’s very easy to become homeless, it’s much harder to get back again’. A church group spent a day clearing her overgrown garden and in the time spent together experiences were shared.

We took good quality clothes to a mum and her young daughter and it was just wonderful to hear comments on how beautiful they thought they were. The daughter immediately picked out a hat and wore it from the moment we arrived.

Five beds

Our initial visit to a lady a year ago to give five beds was the start of an ongoing association that gave us a glimpse of the difficulties of being urgently re-housed without any possessions.

‘Beth’ (not her real name) is a single mother with four children under the age of ten. The whole family had been living in bed and breakfast accommodation. They were given a three-bedroom house with only one week’s notice to the move date. Beth had no means to get any furniture apart from the wardrobe and some kitchen items that came with the house. So there was a very real chance that they would all be sleeping on the floor. It was heartbreaking to see them in such a dire situation.

Amazingly, we had been given five beds at different times, the last two just days before. We very rarely get given so many beds at once and it meant that we could give them to the family on the actual day that they moved into the house.

A few weeks later we were able to deliver a sofa suite to Beth as her lounge was completely empty and the family had all been sitting on the floor for the previous three weeks. It was a joy to see the look on their faces each time we arrived with some household items — they were so grateful for everything that we were able to give. Beth had no one else to turn to, and through Besom her home was completely furnished.

And at Christmas time we were able to give her family several Christmas hampers and a bike as a Christmas present for one of her sons.

Only ones

In describing the kindness that had been shown to her, Beth, of a different faith background, said that ‘Christians are the only people that have helped me’, and tears welled up in her eyes as she mentioned the hampers.

We were delighted to hear that since then a lady from a local church is helping her on a regular basis.

These encounters are also transforming for the givers who meet the families. Whether it is visiting on the van, or decorating, gardening or cooking in groups, it is inevitable that hearts are stirred as we see the brokenness of people’s lives, and with this our compassion grows.

People in need

So, in these current times of austerity, how is life in the Besom world?
Our thoughts go first to those who are most affected. There is already much poverty around us, even just around the corner from where most of us live. Although the full impact of the recession may not yet be clear, it is likely that there will be more people in need, and, in this time of cutbacks, more pressure on the resources available to support them.

For the people in need, the burning, perhaps even desperate, question is, as it always has been: ‘Where does my help come from?’ And then there are our own personal responses to the recession and its aftermath.

Perhaps our first response is one of gratefulness as we come to appreciate more deeply what we have and the things that we really value. When our stability is looking a little more fragile, or we see friends or family facing the consequences of bad times, we can reflect thankfully on what God has given to us.

We also become more mindful of the needs of those in difficulty around us and, as we hear that desperate question, we, too, start to ask what our response should be.

As we look for answers, a good starting point may be those inspiring passages in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 where Paul reminds the Corinthians to ‘excel in the grace of giving’ and that God loves a willing and cheerful giver.

The right time

It is, of course, important for us to give when the time is right and, for many, this is taking place in relationships already.

But there is also an opportunity for us to seek God afresh about what he is calling us to do at this time.

Our hope is that each one of us, individually and together, as part of our local church, can do something to make a difference to someone else’s life and, as we seek to bring the love of God through our giving, can be a source of true hope for those in need.

Our experience is that prayer is key to this — nothing can be done in our own strength, it is only when we pray that God provides the people, the things, the time-givers. He opens doors that without prayer would have remained firmly shut. Indeed, one of the most exciting things about giving through Besom is seeing prayers answered before our eyes, time and again. God sees the bigger picture and brings all the pieces together. Beware — the very act of giving changes us too!

If you would like to know more about Besom, please visit http://www.besom.com and discover a Besom near you.

Simon Chedgy & David Sigsworth

World news – Egypt: marchers attacked


Attackers threw rocks, bricks and broken glass at Coptic Christians marching in Cairo on November 17, injuring ten and seriously injuring two.

About 400 Christians marched through the neighbourhood of Shubra to mark the end of 40 days of mourning after 27 Copts were killed in a clash with the Egyptian army on October 9, and attackers threw objects at them from a six-floor apartment building while ‘the police stood by and watched without doing anything’, said a marcher. Another marcher said that police saw a tattoo of a cross on his upper arm and pushed him toward the attackers, who then beat him and broke his arm.

Some of the Copts blamed the attack on supporters of Gamal Saber, an Islamist candidate in Egypt’s November 28 parliamentary elections; Saber called the Christians ‘stupid’ and blamed them for starting the clashes as a way to harm his election campaign.

Religion Today

World news – Germany: what destiny?


Chancellor Angela Merkel said in September that Germans have failed to grasp how Muslim immigration has transformed their country and will have to come to terms with more mosques than churches throughout the countryside.

Germany, with a population of 4-5 million Muslims, has been divided in recent months by a debate over remarks by the Bundesbank’s Thilo Sarrazin, who argued that Turkish and Arab immigrants were failing to integrate and swamping Germany with a higher birth rate.

The Chancellor’s remarks represented the first official acknowledgement that Germany, like other European countries, is destined to become a stronghold of Islam.

Elsewhere in Europe

In France, 30% of children age 20 years and below are Muslims. The ratio in Paris and Marseille has soared to 45%. In southern France, there are more mosques than churches.

The situation within the United Kingdom is not much different. In the last 30 years, the Muslim population there has climbed from 82,000 to 2.5 million. Presently, there are over 1,000 mosques throughout Great Britain.

In Belgium, 50% of the newborns are Muslims and reportedly its Islamic population hovers around 25%. A similar statistic holds true for The Netherlands.

One in five inhabitants in Russia is a Muslim.

World news – Burma: human rights violations


The plight of Burma’s ethnic nationalities is being neglected in the process of engagement with Burma’s regime, it was reported in November.

Recent political developments in Burma suggest some potential welcome indicators of change, including the decision by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to re-register as a political party, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement that she will run for a parliamentary seat in forthcoming by-elections.

However, reports from the ethnic states, particularly Kachin State (where the population is 90% Christian), indicate that grave human rights violations continue to be perpetrated by the Burma Army.

The pastor of Banggaw Kachin Baptist Church, Gam Aung, was arrested by Burma Army soldiers in Manwin village on November 17. No reasons were given for his arrest and his whereabouts are unknown.

At least ten people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a grenade attack at an orphanage in Myitkyinar, Kachin State, on November 13. The attack happened as a study group was taking place inside the orphanage, increasing the number of casualties.

Shayu Lum Hkawng, assistant to the pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Muk Chyuk village, Waimaw Township, died on November 7 after severe torture. He had been detained along with the pastor, Lajaw Lum Hkawng, and tied up, after Burma Army soldiers attacked and looted the church the previous day. The whereabouts of Hpalawng Lum Hkawng, deacon and youth music team leader, who was injured in the attack, are unknown.

More than 30,000 people from Kachin State have been displaced since June and Burma is regarded as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide / Religion Today

Out of darkness – George Osbourne’s story


Do you know those helium balloons that you can buy? Have you ever had one? I remember having them and that horrible feeling as a small child when it slipped out of your hand and floated off into the sky. Would I ever see it again? It was a bit like that when I became a Christian, I thought I was letting go of something that I had grown quite attached to, namely, my way of life.

I was not raised in a Christian home. Unfortunately my father was an alcoholic. I say this not for sympathy, but to paint a picture of my upbringing. Both my parents loved me very much. They brought me up to be independent, to believe in whatever life I chose, the over-riding principle being whatever makes you happy is best. My parents were not Christians, and I grew up as someone you would least expect to grace the doors of a church.

Touching the super natural

From a young age I rebelled. By age eight I was smoking and from about 11 I had begun getting involved in sniffing aerosols and soft drugs. To be completely open with you, my life was full of mistakes and as I write I am only too aware of what a fool I was. One of my most foolish mistakes was, at 13, I began to play a ‘game’ called the Ouija board, something people believe you can use to talk to dead spirits.

As I began playing this ‘game’ I realised it was my introduction to the supernatural world. Prior to this I thought we were but dust, here today and gone tomorrow. However, as I and a couple of friends began playing, I gained information about my future, information about friends and relatives, information about exam papers at school. It was exciting and began to dominate my life.

After a while we became a little bored and wanted the next high. It’s funny in life, isn’t it, that things never fully satisfy — we always want the next thing, the next gadget, the next house, the next promotion. We decided the next thing in this was to ask these spirits if they would enter our bodies, I told you mine was a stupid story full of mistakes. I want to say that what I am talking about here is strange, I understand it is not an everyday thing. In many ways it is hard for me to talk about it, and the reason why I do is because I cannot escape the truth of it, strange as it may appear.

Voices within

Initially nothing happened until a few days later when we began hearing strange voices in our heads, strange because not our own. This ‘voice’ would tell me things that were coming up, information about my schoolwork, where my friends were at any given time.

One night my two friends and I found ourselves outside a church causing trouble by throwing stones at the windows and shouting and generally being the pleasant youths that we were. This chap came out of the church, a stereotypical Christian with a big woolly jumper on and brown sandals (least that’s how I imagined it; I sit here with my sandals very nearby, the irony!). He talked to us and I can remember being nothing but nasty to that man, spitting on the floor in front of him, laughing at him, jeering at him. At some point he offered to pray for us. I remember thinking why does this man want to pray for us? Here I am spitting in his face, throwing stones at his building, laughing at him, he should be calling the police or telling us to go, at the very least, but here he is wanting to pray for me. He prayed in the name of Jesus. Well, as soon as that name was mentioned my body shook violently. This man realised there was something more serious going on and he and another chap asked us to come back to the church to be prayed for.

As people prayed for me, these spirits (or what I now know to be demons) would actually physically take hold of my body and strange voices would come from my mouth. It took several people to hold me on the floor while I writhed around. It was a profoundly strange experience. I guess the pinnacle for me was when one day, as I was chasing one of my friends down a railway track, this demon physically took over my body and laid me down on the train track. A group of friends standing on a footbridge above me were shouting at me to get up.

Praying to Jesus

As I lay on that track, I had full control of my mind but not my body. There was a train coming towards me on the line and I thought I was going to die. I could just picture the newspaper stories, boy commits suicide on railway, that’s how it would have looked. As the train approached me, it felt like someone or something grabbed hold of the back of my neck and pulled me bolt upright. I was on my feet facing the train that was now whizzing past the front of my face. The reason I mention my friends on the footbridge is because they can testify that there was no one behind me, no human being. You see, I believe in that moment that God literally pulled me up off that train track.

This event really focused my mind. It highlighted to me the very real nature of my situation. This was no longer a game, this was life and death, good and evil. As the voices grew in my head, telling me I was going to die, I ran to my friend’s house, the man with the woolly jumper, and told him I needed help. He explained to me that he and many at the church had been praying for me, but that I needed to make a decision to turn and surrender my life to Jesus Christ. I had seen with my own eyes the power in the name of Jesus Christ. I just wanted to be free of these demons. As people explained to me about sin and good news I do not think I totally understood that, but I just wanted to be free of what was happening to me. I prayed to Jesus that night and I want to testify that Jesus Christ completely healed me, I certainly left the church that night in much peace and a renewed calm.

Falling back

I went to church after that experience and we gave an assembly at my school. A number of my peers decided to give their lives to Christ — how could they not after witnessing much of this? I am, however, ashamed to say that after a few months I stopped going to church; I found it somewhat boring, if the truth be known. I always felt like church was about rules and trying to behave a certain way, taking away fun. I got lured back into the world and soon forgot about that experience.

As I grew up and left school, my life was all about my pleasure and my satisfaction. I wasn’t horrible to people per se, but I would sacrifice very little for others, even what I did sacrifice was there to make me look like a great guy. It was all about me and my happiness. That was all I was searching for, happiness. I think if we are honest with ourselves that is all we are really looking for. I looked for it in so many things: girlfriends, friendships, money, drugs, drink, travelling, material possessions, sport… I remember I would set myself new targets, thinking if I just attained that, then I would be happy, but each time I got there I was so disappointed because that void was still there.

Prodigal son

After travelling to Thailand and owning a bar and restaurant on a tropical island and still not finding satisfaction I came back to the UK. I thought maybe God does have the answers and I decided to go back to that church I had been in all those years ago. One of the first things I heard was the story of the prodigal son; well, that was me in a nutshell. I guess for the first time I finally understood what Christianity was all about. As this prodigal son returned home full of awareness of his wilful turning away from his Father, what greeted him was not a scolding but a compassionate Father who ran to him and welcomed him. I realised that was what I had been looking for all my life: unconditional love that didn’t judge me, didn’t ask where I had been or how I was going to pay everything back, a love that didn’t care what clothes I wore or what achievements I had, a love that said I just want you back. I began to cry as I understood I had come home. That Father is God.

I began getting answers to many questions I had, each one has been answered and I cannot believe the grace that God has shown to me, the patience, the love. In many ways my life is much harder than it ever was, but that empty feeling has gone, that void has been filled. It is probably the biggest struggle of my life to be a Christian, so please don’t hear me saying life is a bed of roses, but as I understood the truth of Jesus it really has set me free.

I now work as a full-time evangelist for Avanti Ministries and I get the opportunity to speak in schools, prisons, church events. I have a burning passion to tell people the awesome news of Christ and to teach others how to do the same. We would love to hear from you if you need somebody to speak at an event or are interested in training and teaching the church in your area.

I am involved locally in Woking, Surrey, with an organisation called Outside Light (http://www.outsidelight.org) and we are passionate about seeing the love of Christ taken into the community both in word and deed.

George Osbourne