Archive | May, 2013

North & South Korea: Crossing the great divide

27 May

north-korea-flag“There used to be 3,000 churches in the North of Korea–more than in the South,” OM’s Northeast Asia Regional Leader, Gim SuYong, told me in a recent conversation. “Many pastors in the North left and started some of the biggest churches in the South. In fact, my own fellowship started that way. But 70 years ago the country was divided into two: North Korea and South Korea”.

For the last seven years Gim SuYong has partnered with the Church in leading a Bible study among North Korean defectors. Approximately 25,000 North Koreans now live in South Korea, he says, and every year 3,000 more come through China. For two years Gim SuYong was designated by the Korean Church Council as leading pastor of a Korean defector camp. He has met several thousand men and women who have chosen to escape the North.

“The defectors I meet have left because they hate what their government is doing,” he states. “When I asked a 60-year-old woman what the big difference is between North and South, she said, ‘In North Korea everybody lives for one man. But through the South Korean church I now understand that one Man died for all!’ The government in North Korea is taking God’s glory for themselves,” continues Gim SuYong. “They have copied the church system of hymns and worship to their ‘god’, Kim Jong-un.

“North Korea’s first priority is to preserve their system. Thousands of people can die without food but if it interferes with the system, they won’t allow aid from outside. However,” he adds, “the doors are not absolutely closed. People are being allowed in to do humanitarian work, and South Korea is funding much of it. A new science and technology university also recently opened in Pyongyang, and the government is aware that it is staffed and supported by Christians”.

The Mongolia connection

Gim SuYong’s OM responsibility extends to Mongolia where, he says, 50 per cent of the population have some relationship with Korea. “Many work in South Korea and it’s not difficult for South Koreans to go to Mongolia, only three hours away. Even the languages are related. Newcomers in either place can be fluent enough to preach within six months. Many Korean Christians go and live there during the summer to do outreach. Mongolia International University was established by a Korean, and he wants to send students to OM.

“But Mongolians can also visit North Korea without visa problems. Many believers have an increasing vision to reach the people in the North. In this way God humbles us!” Gim SuYong smiles. “He can use the tiny Mongolian church to do what the big South Korean Church cannot do!

“Northeast Asia is the heart of the 21st Century–politically, socially and economically. Seoul, PyongYang, Beijing, Ulan Bator and Tokyo are all key cities. That’s why I have a heart burning for this area.

“I want to say I have hope in the North Korean Church,” the field leader finished, and I saw that hope in his eyes. “When believers in the North pray with South Koreans, it’s different. Their experience has shown them how to cry out to God, and with their passion there is hope for revival. I believe in God’s time they will revitalise the church in the South! When visitors to North Korea tell believers that they are praying for them, North Korean Christians respond, ‘No, we’re praying for you!’

“One hundred North Korean defectors have studied in Bible school. I hope one day some of them can join OM!”

 

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The Church’s great big fat Greek mission

15 May

IMG_0894For hundreds of thousands of anxious men and women making their way from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Greece is viewed as the gateway to the West. Many analysts believe there are between 1 to 1.3 million immigrants in the country, making up as much as 10 percent of the population. With Greece suffering its worst economic crisis in recent history, the tendency of many citizens is to blame foreigners.

Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has taken advantage of the rising xenophobia. Members flaunt black shirts, Nazi salutes and a stylised swastika as their logo. With such extreme proposals as forcing immigrants into work camps and planting landmines along the Turkish border, this party won 21 seats in the Greek parliament in last year’s election.

People trafficking

The anti-foreign climate has done nothing to discourage the import of human beings for prostitution. Approximately 20,000 women–1,000 of them between the ages of 13 and 15–are caught in Greece’s lucrative sex industry. OM Greece supports the local ministry Nea Zoi (New Life) which reaches out to people involved in prostitution. Last year, OM Greece team member Rose* met “Jane”, a woman who had been smuggled from Nigeria and then forced to work in brothels to pay back her traffickers. Learning that Jane’s bosses would be away during one specific period, the Nea Zoi team succeeded in getting her out. Rose took Jane to the International Organization for Migration and helped her through the whole process of reclaiming her life.

“Rita” was also trafficked from Nigeria with the promise that she could work on obtaining her Master’s degree in Athens. Instead the young woman found herself forced into prostitution and soon fell pregnant. Once free, her hope was to get a passport for herself and her baby so she could pursue her studies in Belgium. OM Greece–with funds provided by the Freedom Climb* project—partnered with the shelter A21 and Nea Zoi to finally make Rita’s dream possible.

OM is also using funds from the Freedom Climb to partner with the Evangelical Church of Volos, which started this January to renovate a building to serve as a shelter for abused women. Freedom Climb money channeled through OM Greece is also helping to fund a cloth bag-making project in Nea Zoi which will generate income for the women.

Re-defining missions

Although Country Leader Gabby Markus is himself a foreigner from Papua New Guinea, he told me that he is accepted because he is married to a Greek woman, Evie, whom he met while doing relief work in Sri Lanka. “When I went into Greek homes I learned that they don’t like ‘missionaries’, which is what they call evangelicals. They have the mentality that missionaries are tourists living at other peoples’ expense. After World War II the missionaries who came to Greece found the language and culture difficult, so they tended to develop ministries outside existing churches.

“Missions that come and try to drag the churches into their vision just don’t work. Greeks are proud and patriotic. They feel this way of doing things show a lack of respect for churches. That’s why OM’s approach —partnering with the church to witness Christ to the world–seems most acceptable. Last summer a Transform team came for 14 days and got really close to the people. Seven young Greeks also went on a Transform team to Italy.

Churches taking ownership

“A few weeks ago an elder in my church got up after the Sunday service and told everyone, ‘When I became a Christian I thought mission was a business. But now I know that God want us all to do missions!’–That’s exciting!

“When we partnered with a Greek church to feed unemployed, homeless people and refugees last year, the church members took it over and ran it. This is an amazing transformation. Just two years ago it would not be possible to see foreigners welcomed into the church yard to be fed. Now they feed up to 130 people from Syria, Iran, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe and many other countries each day. We lay out books and Bibles in different languages and they disappear. Last September we raised funds to add a kitchen in the back of the church so that people could get hot food instead of cold. In February this year we launched a second feeding programme in Piraeus port, in partnership with another church that’s in charge of the day-to-day running of it.”

As an extension of the feeding programme, adds Gabby, the church now also runs a drop-in centre for homeless people where they can get tea or coffee, do their laundry and take showers. OM contributed to the start-up of this project and will continue to support it as they raise more funds for the running cost.

Birth of a Migrant Church Network

As a matter of fact, I’ve discovered that this country’s migrant believers’ population now exceeds that of all the Greek evangelical believers put together. Last June a Migrant Church Network was formed with over 80 churches.

“OM has been gaining access into these churches and they have asked us to do discipleship training,” Gabby notes. “Twenty-six Filipinos just graduated from the first course and a second course is planned soon. We are hoping to organise an international worship and prayer event that promotes Greek and migrant churches working together.

“The ‘ends of the earth’ has come to Greece.” The country leader gave me a smile. “God brought them to us! I believe He is doing a new thing.”

 

*Names have been changed.

*See http://thefreedomclimb.net

REDEEMED!

8 May

Ghanawoman2“It was raining the evening I met Annabelle,” Chris Insaidoo of OM Ghana told me. “She approached my car and asked, ‘Do you want me for the night?’

“Why are you doing this to yourself, my sister?” I asked, looking into the girl’s dark eyes. “You have a bright future. Why must you be here this night, in this rain, selling your body?”

“‘It’s a long story, sir,’ she whispered, her eyes overflowing with tears. ‘Sorry, I cannot say anything more. They are watching me.’

“I gave the girl my phone number and told her to call. That was the beginning of what led to the rescue of some 46 sex slaves from Nigeria, in October 2012.”

Captured

Nigeria’s organised crime rings have created a multi-billion Euro human trafficking network in Africa and overseas. The young women that Chris learned about, all between the ages of 17 and 25, had been taken to a “guesthouse” in the unofficial red light district of Kumasi, Ghana, with the promise of jobs. Once they arrived the girls were informed they would be working as prostitutes. They could only buy their freedom by paying off the equivalent of 1,400 Euros.

Often the women were paid as little as two Euros for their services, and not infrequently they were raped or else robbed. One girl named Angela later told Chris that she sometimes had to sleep with up to 12 men each night to make the required amount to cover food and rent. “You can’t fall sick and it was taboo to get pregnant,” she added. “Our madams would beat you mercilessly and acquire a concoction for you to drink. Three days after the abortion, you needed to be back in business.”

Child Slaves

Chris Insaidoo was first compelled to take action against trafficking after learning the plight of hundreds of boys and girls who are taken from poor areas of northern Ghana and forced into slave labour. Last year alone, the OM Ghana team were able to send 150 rescued children or at risk of trafficking to school.

Gathering information about trafficked Nigerian girls was risky business, particularly as the team observed some of the local police cooperating with traffickers. “We went to the police commander,” states Chris, “and he directed us to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ashanti Regional Police who initiated a raid on the brothel. Four traffickers were arrested and 46 girls set free.”

Spiritual and Physical Needs

As Chris explained to me, however, freed victims often have no place to go. “In order to keep their power over victims, traffickers sometimes leak information to the girls’ families that they have become prostitutes, so they can’t go home again. Or witchcraft ceremonies are performed to convince girls that a family member will go mad or die if they try to escape.

“So,” he says, “we have to run deliverance sessions. It’s hard work, but people who are rescued will go back to slavery without Christ. You must meet both spiritual and physical needs.”

OM Ghana has set up a small sewing centre where women make school uniforms, which helps both the women and children. Freedom Climb* money buys the fabric. Freedom Climb and OM UK are also helping to fund a new vocational skill development programme during the next year for between 20 and 25 girls, who will also be grounded in their faith.

While we can rejoice at the redemption of the young women and children who have been set free, the reality is that millions of others remain prisoners of the powerful. Our work, worldwide, has just begun.

 

 *See http://www.thefreedomclimb.net/