EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Dec. 2-9 Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention centered on the theme of “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing […]
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.
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* ...
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?"
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.
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.
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.
[[email protected]@190="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.
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."