BY RENEE HEEMSKERK, PROJECT ADMINISTRATOR
A week before the devastating Taliban attack on the Peshawar Army School, I was trekking through the Pakistan countryside. My colleague, Jay Chowdhury and I visited our partner, ChrisFon, to monitor the Freedom Pakistan program that works to emancipate indentured workers (modern day slaves). We visited villages and followed up on animal and business loans that were dispersed months ago. We walked through brick kilns and heard from workers who are being cheated by their employers and are learning their legal rights. We met with ChrisFon workers who are encouraging health and wellness in rural communities and building relationships. By the end of the week we had travelled hundreds of kilometres to multiple locations and met with numerous people. I had collected all of the information we needed on the project and was happy to be back in Lahore to rest before leaving the following day.
Several hours before our flight, ChrisFon Ministry Director David asked if Jay and I would meet with a group of Christian converts to encourage them. Feeling tired from our excursions, wanting to type up my notes and still needing to pack I hesitated. Then David shared, “These people have faced many hardships because of their decision to follow Jesus. They will feel encouraged if you meet with them and share something.”Ok. I sighed. Best to go. I decided.
So in the morning we drove through the dusty city weaving between motorbikes, cars, trucks and various donkey and camel carts and finally arrived at a small building where 50 men, women and children patiently waited. Both Jay and I had a chance to speak. I had prepared some notes on Psalm 93, a chapter in the Bible I read when I am discouraged. To my great delight, the men sitting in the front row nodded, clapped and vocally affirmed each verse as it was read. After I finished, a line up formed of those who wanted to receive prayer or share their testimonies.
At this time, a tall elderly man in white, standing beside his wife, came forward and began to speak.
“One night, not long after I became a Christian a man approached me in the evening as I stood outside of my house. When I turned to look at him he raised a gun toward me. ‘Convert back to Islam,’ he shouted, ‘or I will kill you right now.’ I stared at him and did not move. Then I responded, ‘I have found the Living God and He will protect me. My life is in His hands.’ Without hesitation the stranger fired the gun five times but each bullet veered to the left or right. Every one missed me. Angered the man turned to my buffalo, which was our livelihood, and shot it. Then he ran away into the night. I quickly called together my family and friends and shared how God had saved me. We gathered by the buffalo and prayed that God would spare its life. Then God healed my buffalo. We watched the wound close.”
I sat there slightly stunned looking back at the man in white, reflecting on the words just spoken. The story was shocking but soon became familiar. Another man pulled up his shirt revealing a jagged scar. “This is where my brother stabbed me after I became a Christian. God enabled me to get away.” Others showed us death threats they had received written on letterhead. They continued to tell stories of persecution and hardship and ask for prayer. Most had moved away from their communities because it was no longer safe for them to be there. Many had lost their families, spouses, children, friends and their homes when they converted to Christianity. They faced hatred, death, exclusion and fear.
Yet strangely their stories did not focus on the hardships they endured. Instead each person brightened as they revealed an incredible faith in the God who found them and powerfully moved on their behalf. They focused on Jesus, the protector and the one who brings peace. Their words echoed in my ears. God saved me…God enabled me to get away..My life is in His hands. Any doubt in my heart melted away in the presence of my Pakitani brothers and sisters and their faith.
It was profound and deeply moving.
It became clear why they resonated so much with the words of Psalm 91,
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.”
I went to encourage this group of persecuted believers – an opportunity that I nearly missed out on. Yet, I was the one who walked away feeling uplifted. Their testimonies reveal that God is alive and at work in the most unexpected places.
Our time together reminds me of our need to stand together, to pray for one another and to bring encouragement to each other. This is the beautiful opportunity we have as parts of the body of Christ. This is the opportunity we have through partnership. As Canadians we can feel so removed from the dangerous reality that our fellow Christians face. But now, more so than ever there are ways to support one another and strengthen each other in our faith. I told the group of believers before I left, “Canadians are thinking about you and praying for you. You are not forgotten.”
BY ANONYMOUS PARTNER, TIBET
Seven Tibetans accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and the evangelist who shared the Gospel with them was in danger. Mr. P a Partners International missionary who serves the Lord in an area on the border of Tibet was almost martyred. It was during the months of July and August that he became known in the villages as he boldly shared the Gospel. As some responded to his message, others grew angry and Mr. P was stoned by the village people while he was witnessing. This village is very isolated and at a high altitude. According to the village people he was killed and they threw his body somewhere near the forest so that no one would located his dead body. But God has another plan. Mr. P did not die but was raised and he made his way back to his home town. His injuries are bad but he is home and now he is getting better. Please pray for his complete healing. There is a Buddhist extremist group in these areas and they have been in every Tibetan village in the Himalayas with the goal to strengthen Buddhism and not allow Christianity in their villages. Our workers and believers are persecuted heavily by this group. Please pray for the protection of our workers and believers in the Himalayas.
BY ANONYMOUS PARTNER, INDIA
As I stop to write you these few lines, my heart rejoices in the tremendous gift of partnership that we share in Jesus Christ. This was something that overwhelmed my heart when I was meeting with a couple of brothers who had come to faith from an Islamic background a few days ago. A few years ago, I had written about these brave men and women of faith. They were beaten, abused, violated and driven out of their homes and village because of their love for Isa Masih (Jesus). One of our dear brothers who was very badly beaten, shared with us, “Though we have not been able to return to our village, God has been merciful. We have begun to meet at a Jamat (house Church) in the village again. This happened because of your prayers. The group of men that persecuted us had a personal disagreement in their own group recently. This led to a big fight and the whole village was very badly affected because of this incident. The unrest and unhappiness that this feud caused in our village resulted in the entire village realizing that the followers of Isa Masih (Jesus) were also treated wrongly by this group of men. They have since asked us to return back to our village. We are not comfortable to live in our village as yet, but have begun to meet with a group of believers there each week. Thank you for your prayers!”
BY LUKE MCKEE, COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
Our ministry partner, TETMI, also known as the Evangelizers Team Ministries International operates in the southern regions of Nigeria where they work tirelessly to bring the word of God to rural communities in southern Nigeria. In these unreached places they are involved in running schools, churches, medical clinics, women’s conferences and so much more. Recently I had the opportunity to meet TETMI director, David Umune, and discuss the current situation in Nigeria and how the danger of Boko Haram has opened up new opportunities for TETMI to expand their witness.
David is quick to share that they remain safe in the southeastern regions. While many may think that Boko Haram is a country wide group, David is quick to let me know that their activities are largely restricted to the north and have not put the TETMI organization under any pressure in their day-to-day activities. While they may not have had much contact with the organization of Boko Haram, David points out that their activities in the north have provided new opportunities to witness to people they never thought they would begin to reach.
“What is happening in Nigeria is real.” David remarks, “Where we are working is safe, one thing that we are seeing though, is a mass exodus of Fulani coming from the north towards the east where we are.”
The Fulani are a nomadic people group that have traditionally lived and travelled in the northern regions of Nigeria and throughout other countries in western and central Africa. The Fulani people traditionally do not journey to the southeastern regions of Nigeria where TETMI is currently working. The violent actions taken by Boko Haram have intensified though, with it estimated that over 10,000 people had been killed by Boko Haram in 2014. As the violence has intensified, the Fulani have been forced to move out of the north in an effort to find safer places to exist. This movement of people has placed the Fulani and TETMI in the same place for the first time, opening up the opportunity for TETMI to reach a new group of people with the gospel message of Christ.
TETMI has been unable to reach the Fulani previously due to the fact that the north is so openly hostile against Christian witness. For TETMI workers, it is dangerous to enter the north where violent actions will often be taken against them for their faith. Beyond the workers, those they convert face similar violent action for their conversion of faith as they return to their community. The movement has made it safer not only for the TETMI workers, but for those who they reach and are touched by the Good News.
“It has added to our plate, these are people that we couldn’t reach before, they were so intense and incensed against preaching of the gospel.” David says, “But, God in His way has graciously brought them to us, where we are, so we can engage them with the gospel without fear of being killed. So that is an opportunity in itself that the Church is being challenged to engage in.”
As people begin to move into the safer, southern area of Nigeria, they have the opportunity to hear and see what God is doing in their country. TETMI now has the opportunity to safely connect with these people, but also those who have been changed by God’s love are in a much safer area where they no longer have to fear being killed for their conversion. It is amazing to see the new ways that God opens up to share His message with the world.