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Breaking the fear barrier!

19 Aug

EgyptprotestWhile attending a conference in Rome last month I talked with an American who describes exciting new opportunities for Christians after Egypt’s second revolution

A lot more is happening in Egypt these days than is apparent on our nightly news. A Christian worker on the ground in Cairo, whom we will call John Nyalls to protect his security, reports a groundswell of excitement among the Christian population who are involved in reaching Muslims. He declares, “One year of Morsi’s government has done more to advance Christianity in Egypt than all the decades before it.”

Media attention to Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations gives the impression that this group is much bigger than it actually is. John estimates that only about one-half to one per cent of the population are avid pro-Brotherhood and up to five per cent may be ultra-conservative Islamists. But after Morsi failed in his promise to represent all the people rather than the Islamist faction and passing an Islamist-favoured constitution, the vast majority of Egyptians made it clear they’d had enough.

So unpopular is the Muslim Brotherhood these days, observes John, that many shopkeepers are refusing to serve men with long beards (the usual Brotherhood trademark), and taxi drivers are refusing to pick them up. Some Muslims have shaved off their beards in self-defence. 

Christians–especially young people from the churches–have become proactive, handing out thousands of copies of Bibles, New Testaments and CDs of the Jesus film and other material. Very few Arabic Bibles are refused. Believers add that they’ve even observed some covered Muslim women, after receiving Bibles, lift the book to their lips in a reverent kiss.egypttahrir square

It hasn’t all been easy for the Christian population, however. Ultra-conservative Muslims have retaliated against what they called Christian support for Morsi’s removal. A number of attacks have been launched against churches and Christians, particularly those who live in Brotherhood strongholds.

 “Now,” says John, “the wolf–the Brotherhood–is no longer pretending to be a sheep. Members are now unbridled in going after churches and Christians. And this is turning more moderate Muslims against them.”

He pointed out the astonishing fact that tens of thousands of Bibles are being downloaded each month in the Muslim world. The website aljazeera.net published an interview with Ahmad Al Qataan, an important Islamic cleric, who said that every year six million Muslims convert to Christianity.”* Unfortunately, most disillusioned Muslims will turn to atheism rather than Christianity unless more people seize the day. John reports that Christian Egyptians who have been reaching out are coming across a significant enough number of atheists; they are feeling the need for specific training on how to reach them.

The next presidential election is not slated to be held until early 2014. The interim leader has meanwhile sworn in a Cabinet that includes women and Christians but no Islamists. Although no one wants a police or army state, John agrees with many that the longer the election is put off the better. “People need time to think through who should take control. Elections came too fast after the first revolution; the Brotherhood were the only ones organised enough to step in. Seventy per cent of the population are just struggling to survive, only maybe 30 per cent are thinking through the politics. The Brotherhood actually lost last time in Cairo and Alexandria, where the intellectuals are centred.”

Considering that Christians control about 30 per cent of the economy in Egypt, it would seem that they are in a position to exert great influence. In churches the tendency has been to support Christian projects within Egypt rather than world missions. John Nyalls asserts that with the new opportunities that are now apparent, the ministry paradigm needs to change. “Pray for creativity, that churches won’t just say, ‘No money, no mission'”.

*http://www.faithfreedom.org/oped/sina31103.htm

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On the road for Syria

8 Jul

KelmsRefugeeRide2013

On June 21st OM artists Dustin and Katie Kelm set off on an extraordinary adventure. Their goal is to ride two 36 inch “big wheel” unicycles from coast to coast across the USA in order to raise one million dollars for Syrian refugees and internally displaced people. The journey began at Tybee Island, Savannah, Georgia, and is scheduled to end the first week of October in Yachats, Oregon.

Dustin and Katie have been serving with OM Arts International since 2008. Millions around the world have been impacted by Dustin’s skills and personal testimony as he uses the unicycle at schools, festivals and other events as a tool to share the message of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, while in training just two months before the start of the Refuge Ride, Dustin had a crash that resulted in a concussion and broken arm. However, the Kelms felt the need and pain of Syrians was much greater, and made up their minds to complete the challenge.

Although the couple are riding the 3,500-plus miles their own, without any vehicle backup, this initiative is very much a team effort. A large support group has arranged lodging and speaking engagements, ships them supplies as needed and continues to recruit sponsors and donors.

“We have been amazed by the generosity and kindness we have already experienced,” they affirm. “Someone handed us cold water from their car window as we rode by. Numerous restaurants and hotels have graciously donated food and rooms. People have prayed with us for safety and success in parking lots. Others have donated instantly when hearing about our cause, even from their cars while slowly driving by to talk to us.”

OM is trying to meet some of the immediate physical needs of displaced Syrians, also providing trauma counseling programs and long term micro enterprise projects to get people back on their feet. Dustin and Katie ask you to get behind their effort by spreading the word, praying and giving. “With God’s help and the sacrificial involvement of many we can all make a difference in the lives of Syrians struggling to survive.”

Follow their journey this summer on http://refugeride.blogspot.co.uk/ and give at https://my.omusa.org/RefugeRide

KelmsUnicycleTrip2013

Streams in the desert of Chad

19 Jun

Chad nomads

It is an ancient land, inhabited and fought over since time began. Lying deep in the heart of Africa, the nation of Chad is three times the size of California and entirely surrounded by six countries: Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Even after the latest five-year conflict with Sudan which ended in 2010, the land remains troubled by rebel groups.

Chad is also hugely impacted by the ever-expanding Sahara Desert. To the 80 per cent of residents who are subsistence farmers, water is precious. Few roads are paved. This is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries on the planet. The average life expectancy is only 49 years. Maternal death rates are as much as 1000 times higher than in high-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation. Chad is on Save the Children’s top 10 list of the world’s worst places to be a mother.

 Only a special kind of Christian worker can survive in Chad. Although freedom of religion is supposed to be official and up to 38 per cent of the population are at least nominal Christians, over half are Muslims: and Muslim influence is strong.

 “The further you get from the capital,” asserts “Paul,”* “the more radical it is.”

Paul moved from his own country to pioneer in Chad nine years ago, the last four of them under OM. He now speaks French and is learning Arabic. Last year he was finally joined by a second man. The pair teach English, conduct Bible studies, develop friendships with young people through football, and run a sewing project to assist some of Chad’s thousands of war widows, since the government offers little help.

 Paul has boldly chosen to live in the community he is trying to reach. “But even though I dress like everyone else,” he says, “people know I’m a foreigner and a Christian. Twice I was stoned. The first time it was by little children. So I challenged the adults who were playing cards nearby: ‘You say, “Peace be upon you!”–Is that just for Muslims or for anyone?’ Then they rebuked the kids for throwing stones.

 “The church in Chad is very weak,” continues Paul, “and Christians are fearful of going into Muslim areas. Churches are also divided among themselves and don’t work together. We want to change this situation through discipleship training. Our first two-month course, a pilot project, starts this May. The training will include practical evangelism experience in Nigeria. Pray that Christians from all the churches in the area will participate.”

 Paul and his co-worker have been encouraged that some believers are getting on board with the sewing project and also learning to share their faith. “When we talked to the women about God as our Father, I saw a Muslim woman cry. She said, ‘God sent you. We didn’t know we could call God Father’! Knowing they can talk to Him about their problems speaks volumes into their lives.”

 These two men are very anxious for your intercession. Chad’s climate is not a comfortable one, either spiritually or physically. Temperatures at this time of year can soar to over 45C or 110F. Their personal drinking supply is not safe and Paul struggles with stomach problems.

 Some have nicknamed Chad the “Dead Heart of Africa”. Fortunately, the God who gave His Son to die for the people of Chad is eager to show that no such place exists. He specialises in creating thirst-quenching streams in even the most barren of deserts.

 *Name changed