Church leaders in eastern Ukraine send up S.O.S.
Evangelical leaders meet in Kiev.
(Image courtesy IRS.IN.UA via Russian Ministries)
Ukraine (MNN) -- Evangelical church leaders in eastern Ukraine are calling for help. They recently released a statement detailing the ongoing persecution of believers and directed the world community to take action.
"Targeted attacks have been carried out by armed militants against evangelicals,"
reads part of the official statement, "accompanied by abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms in places of prayer meetings, seizures of houses of worship, rehabilitation centers, and other places of worship."
You can read the full report
on Russian Ministries'
religious freedom blog.
Ukraine's current President, Petro Poroshenko, is an evangelical Baptist who took the helm following months of violent protests. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine view any and all evangelicals as supporters of Ukraine's government, and therefore a threat.
“[Separatists] believe that evangelical churches are their enemies. In one of the towns, they even raised the Orthodox flag and said they would fight any heretic, any Protestant, anyone who represents any Western immoral values,” said Russian Ministries President Sergey Rakhuba in a July 23 report.
Evangelical church leaders are calling on groups like the UN and European Union to take action against the separatists on their behalf. They're also calling on believers worldwide to join them in prayer.
Find a list of prayer needs on the right side of this page. Then, add your voice
to the "prayer wall" we're building on Facebook.
More on the work of Russian Ministries in Ukraine here.
Felon voting rights: a Christian issue?
(Photo courtesy Vox EFX via Flickr)
USA (MNN) -- No sinner is beyond the redemptive power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But, should redemption stop at the soul?
Dr. David Schuringa of Crossroad Bible Institute
says ex-felon voting rights should be included in the holistic scope of redemption.
"The Bible's not about payback and revenge," says Schuringa. "We must get out of our heads that punishment is about payback and retribution. Punishment should be about restoration and rehabilitation."
Last week, Schuringa advocated for felon voting rights and offered a faith-based perspective on the issue at a bipartisan U.S. Senate briefing. The talk revolved around the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), a piece of legislation that would restore federal voting rights to former felons.
More on the DRA here.
"Voting is a very, very important part of being invested in our communities, rather than being on the fringes with nothing to say," Schuringa observes.
In biblical curriculum
developed specifically for prison inmates, CBI teaches their students why being involved in a community is important. It's all about giving back, instead of taking from others.
(Photo cred: CBI)
"[Voting is] something that will give you a voice, and then you are invested in [the community] and want to be part of it," explains Schuringa. If ex-felons are actively involved in their community, they are less likely to commit a crime that would place them back in prison.
When confronted with the issue of felon voting rights and the Christian's response, Schuringa is reminded of God's commands in Proverbs 31:8 and 9: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
"What better way to be a voice for the voiceless than to give the voiceless a voice? And that is the vote. We are a country of second chances," Schuringa observes.
The entire Bible shows that mankind cannot payback or redeem themselves for wrongs they've committed, he adds. That's why Jesus Christ was sent to be our Savior and redeem our fallen relationship with God the Father. Through salvation, we are offered a "second chance" at righteousness.
But, for many people--Christians included, redemption doesn't apply to non-spiritual issues.
"We're pretty much a 'revenge culture,'" Schuringa says, describing U.S. society.
The Gospel message is one of redemption through the salvation offered freely by Jesus Christ. Should that redemption stop at the soul?
Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Digital Bible Platform surpasses 200 million users
Faith Comes by Hearing has digital Bible content available in many formats, thanks to the Digital Bible Platform. (Photo courtesy of FCBH)
International (FCBH/MNN) -- Coming from modest beginnings as a cassette tape lending library more than 40 years ago, Faith Comes By Hearing
can truly say they understand and appreciate the saying, "You've come a long way, baby."
At one time, the ministry focused solely on those in the American church and provided content in one language: English. Today, they are an international organization providing free digital access to Scripture recordings in over 830 languages that are spoken or signed by over 5.7 billion people. Across all of their digital platforms, the ministry has seen Bible engagement from more than 200 million users in just the last four years.
Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) has been on the technological forefront in digital Bible distribution with the Digital Bible Platform, which houses the world's largest repository of digital Scripture text, audio and video that is freely shared with partnering developers via an open API (application programming interface). The system is also what powers the ministry's own distribution points, which now include:
Deaf Bible app
Bible.is Web site
Internet Radio Network
iTunes podcast store
Samsung Smart TV app
Online streaming player
Troy Carl, FCBH vice president and conceptual creator of the platform, says, "Our goal is simple: to make the Bible freely available to every person on the planet in a format they can actually use and in a language they understand."
That straightforward focus and commitment was evidenced clearly when Faith Comes By Hearing--known as an Audio Bible ministry--released the Deaf Bible app almost two years ago. The Digital Bible Platform now houses and provides access to video Bible translations in 14 sign languages, with more being added regularly. The Deaf Bible app is the most downloaded Deaf app in the world and continues to be on the cutting edge of the video-centric technology needed and desired by the Deaf community.
The ministry also has 24/7 Audio Bible channels broadcasting on satellite TV in the Middle East. The current channels are in Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Azerbaijani, and Turkish, with plans to expand to other prominent languages spoken in the region. This is done in partnership with SAT-7, who promotes each of these on their own broadcast stations.
"We realize that technology is opening many doors to spreading the Good News. And by having this Bible content standardized and in a digital format, we are ready for whatever new tech comes next," states Carl.
Praise God for His blessings upon FCBH. You can support their work financially by following this link.
Drug abusers in China find freedom in Christ
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
China (MNN) -- Often it's those who struggle the most with their sin who have a greater chance of understanding God's mercy.
Christian Aid Mission
supports a drug rehabilitation center in China that is a picture of God using our sin to draw us to Himself.
Amie Cotton of Christian Aid says, "China has a long history of drug use and abuse. Back in the 40s and 50s, there was a lot of opium poppy farming in China."
She says that there are 7-12 million drug abusers in China-- 80% of them being men, and 70% under 35. The most popular drugs are heroin, meth, and ecstasy.
The ministry they assist is called New Birth Garden, located in the Yunnan Province. It is a Christian rehabilitation center that is recognized by both the government and the community as a positive, effective solution to the drug abuse in China.
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
"It's amazing to see what kind of life-changing impact this center is making on drug abusers for years and years," Cotton says.
Along with addressing addictive behavior, drug users are taught helpful skills that will aid them when they reenter society. This includes farming, acupuncture, and massage.
Students at New Birth Garden participate in Bible study, prayer, and praise and worship gatherings.
"The biggest thing is that their life is changed. We know that true healing and freedom can only come from Christ, and so it's exciting to see lives changed, I mean, lives restored and families restored," Cotton says.
For some, whole families accept Christ because of the miraculous change they've seen in their loved one.
"Even people on the outside can see the changed lives and the continuous change. It's not just a change for a while and then they go back to it, which is often the case with drug abuse."
Cotton says this is a practical way of being the hands and feet of Jesus.
The change is obvious even on governmental levels. It's because of this that the government allows them to do other outreaches in the community.
Cotton says, "Because of its successful track record, they see individuals restored and re-engaging in society successfully. They see that it works, and so they're supporting that. They want that for their communities. It's exciting that this is recognized by the Chinese government."
One of the biggest needs of the center is financial support. Currently 21 men are enrolled in the program, and there are 14 full-time workers. But New Birth Garden has to send people away because they cannot afford any more participants. The operation runs for about $10,000 a year.
You can support the center by clicking here
. Use gift/CAM code 926GDTC.
If you're not called to support financially, Cotton shares something you can do right now:
"Most of all we need your prayers, that God would be with these men, that He would give them courage, He would give them strength to go through this program to overcome this temptation and this vice in their life, and that God's glory would just shine through and make a difference in their lives."
(Photo by Christian Aid Mission)
New Religious Freedom Ambassador named
(Photo courtesy China Aid)
USA (MNN) -- According to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide), 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
The United States says they're concerned about this infringement of rights. However, the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
has gone empty for more months than it has been filled in the current administration.
That's why this week's White House announcement brought hope rushing back. David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA.
says, "They've appointed Rabbi David Saperstein to this appointment. I'm hoping that he will be very effective. He has a good reputation as far as support of persecuted Christians and religious liberty and issues that are important to Open Doors."
(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/World Economic Forum)
Saperstein has the National Association of Evangelicals' (NAE) endorsement, too. It's a position that serves as the principal advisor on international religious freedom to both the president and the secretary of state. Curry adds, "It's important to have somebody who is a point person, watching out for issues of religious liberty, speaking out for the government, and perhaps negotiating for the United States government with regard to the freedom of people to express their faith."
However, one question that remains is: Who is this guy? According to the NAE, for more than 30 years Saperstein has represented the Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In 1999, Saperstein was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and he also headed the Coalition to Protect Religious Liberty. He's now the first non-Christian to speak for the persecuted Church. “David Saperstein will be a strong advocate and voice for religious freedom around the world,” NAE President Leith Anderson says. “It’s hard to imagine a time when there would be a greater need for such a champion.”
(Photo courtesy Open Doors)
"We're prayerful that this new role will have a great deal of influence and access to the Secretary of State and shape some of the attitudes and policies of this administration," says Curry. He goes on to note that while Saperstein has support from the faith community, he might face an uphill battle. "We're excited that they've finally gotten around to appointing the position again. But because it's been such a weak position and such a lack of focus on this issue from the administration, it's hard to get too optimistic."
The NAE has urged President Obama to fill the position since it became vacant in October 2013. In February, Anderson signed a letter with other well-known American Christian leaders thanking the president for lifting up the cause of international religious liberty at the National Prayer Breakfast and asking him “to appoint a proven leader with the stature to engage world leaders and to give this person your full support as he or she represents and promotes our government’s commitment to religious freedom.”
Persecution? It takes on a whole different meaning in the global context, says Curry. "What we're talking about when we're talking about persecution is the inability to own a Bible, to read a Bible, to talk openly about your faith, to own a business in some countries. In many, many countries, you have to register if you're a Christian, almost as though you're a criminal."
Saperstein comes to the job during unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East. The expulsion of and violence against Christians in Mosul, Iraq is one example of how Christians are targeted for their faith. Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group in the world.
A look at the Open Doors World Watch List
shows how volatile the worst oppressors in 50 countries are when it comes down to strengthening Christ followers and equipping them to share their stories. In light of that, Curry urges prayer for Saperstein as he takes on new responsibilities and faces new challenges in his post. Why should you care? "The wider political environment, the administrations, the governments: they're not going to care about persecuted Christians more than the actual Christian community does. It's really a biblical mandate that 'when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.'"