Unrest in Bolivia

The Scriptures teach us to submit to our governing authorities. But what happens when those authorities are questionable in their legitimacy? And we find ourselves in a nation divided along hardened lines regarding who has the legal right to the claim of “governing authority”?

US news channels do not talk about Bolivia. Even as racist violence has taken four lives in the past week, the streets are blockaded, transportation is severely restricted, and basic necessities are threatened. Amid all this clamor, the more persistent, generational injustice of poverty and domestic violence fades into silence. Bolivia’s president has resigned as a result of pressure from social movements, yet has done so with an undertone of bitterness that suggests things are far from over.

Beneath the fog of such ideological battles, does any of this matter when you are a child who has suffered abuse and abandonment? Whose voice has already been silenced twice over by family and society alike?

This is the current situation of Bolivia, and the questions being asked by the 41 children, teens and young adults, and the 23 staff, of BelPres partner, Niños con Valor. Bolivia is amid the worst civil unrest in decades, and the issues at the center of this unrest are not to be ignored. Yet our kids are unable to attend school, can’t participate in extra-curricular classes, and suddenly find in their internal uncertainty merging with external uncertainty. So, how do we react?

It has been a wild three weeks as unrest in Bolivia aimed at forcing the current administration, proven to have committed fraud to remain in power, out of office. Everything has happened in waves. A day of extreme violence and then a day or two of calm. There have been difficulties in getting around due to blockages. It is a part of the process of letting the government know the level of discontent that exists amongst the majority of Bolivians. Thankfully, food, gas, and basic necessities have been minimally impacted, and the most significant complication for the kids of NCV has been the lack of school.

Yesterday, many MAS(Movimiento al Socialismo:  Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples) politicians, including President Evo Morales and Vice-President Garcia Linera, stepped down. However, this was done amid accusations of a coup and assurances that they would return and was only done verbally without any formal proceedings.

Unfortunately, there has been violence on both sides. Some comments made by followers of one of the prominent social leaders, Luis Fernando Camacho, have attempted to paint this in a “Christian” light, to the degree of saying derogatory things about the Pachamama. These comments will likely only increase the violence that flared after the resignations. On the one hand, there have been signs that the opposition has been working to bridge racist divides. However, comments like this will create a wariness in the indigenous groups. It may potentially provide justifications for the comments made by Evo: all the opposition wants is to wrest from the indigenous people the freedoms and voice they have fought too long to obtain.

I believe in the importance of term-limits. A country is strengthened by change rather than continuance in the power of a single leader. Sadly, the lack of interest the government here has shown towards the social services of children who have suffered abuse has been so minimal. NCV leadership has been hoping for a shift in direction that could lead to a change in policy. I only hope that this also doesn’t mean a return to policies that marginalize people based on their beliefs, the color of their skin, the language they speak.

The next days and weeks will be crucial. Last night was full of violence and vandalism, both from opposition and MAS supporters. There is anarchy due to the lack of public security (police and army are only intervening in extreme situations). In general, people are anxious and uncertain.

In the end, we find ourselves coming back to the core of our ministry. Governments and leaders change, ideologies shift, public support for the marginalized ebbs, and flows. What doesn’t change, however, is God’s love. So, in the midst, the current political climate and unrest, we focus on family. On keeping each other safe, our spirits raised, and faith strong. We know that God’s call to serve and bring justice to those who are suffering. Christ’s examples of the compassionate accompaniment of those society rejects are not dependent on our surroundings.

 

Prayer Request

We encourage our BelPres family to catch up on Bolivian news and pray for our children,  for our nation and its leaders, and most of all – for peace.

In this context, we ask for prayers to find a peaceful solution to embrace the diverse perspectives, concerns, and needs held by all of Bolivians. And that God will not be used as a justification for division, but that the church would exemplify Christ’s love.

Honoring Teachers in Rwanda

Every month Rwanda Faith Academy (RFA) hosts a community meeting for the staff to talk about different subject matters to strengthen families and the community. The October meeting was led by Emmanuel, School Head Master, conducting a conversation and asking the attendees to participate in a discussion regarding resolving family conflict. A lively discussion occurred in hopes that put an end would to families coming apart at the seams and to turn around the numbers of children leaving home and living on the streets. Thank-you Teachers, and staff for caring for our students in and out of the classroom.

International Teacher Day was celebrated at Rwanda Faith Academy on October 5th. The teachers were honored with new uniforms. RFA school administration arranged the sector level celebration to commend the teachers’ hard work and dedication to their students to raise up the dignity of all teachers. We are proud of our Teachers and staff in their total caring for the student body that attends RFA. That care does not stop with the student alone but extends to their family and community at large. The success of the family/community education program bares this out. And the program would not exist or be possible without our dedicated teachers and staff. And this speaks to the continued success of RFA overall program bringing commendations to the school

Classroom work continues to prepare the students for their National Exams next month. Midterm exams were executed over three days to evaluate student skill levels and direct the revision classes to prepare for the critical National Exams. RFA teachers and staff work together to review the midterms and put down the curriculum for their students every success. Our past National Exam scores show our 95-98% passing, and we strive to see 100% of our students passing this year. In Rwanda, students must pass the National Exam to move on to the next grade level.

RFA teachers and staff want to express their gratefulness to the USA team and USA partners for your prayers and resources. The unity in the teamwork has made the vision of the school to provide excellence in the delivery of quality education a reality. The teachers and staff share much joy and peace as they are confident in God’s leading for the next stage, and they are excited to see what God is doing at Rwanda Faith Academy. So Thank-you!

Prayer Requests:
Preparations for the National Exams
A community center on the RFA campus for multipurpose use
As the school wines down the 2019 school year, good rest for Teachers, Staff, and Students during the Holiday Break

Stories from Greece- Isaiah 19 Trip

Today began bright and early flight to Lesvos, a frequent destination for refugees trying to reach Greece, an island located near the Turkish mainland. The Greek government established Moria Camp to receive and care for 3,000 people. Today it serves 14,000 people with more arriving each day.

Seeing the camp and the conditions folks are living in was challenging and confusing. The camp has spilled over its original boundaries and is expanding more as more people arrive. There was trash everywhere, and the process to serve refugees is tested by the sheer volume of them, and there isn’t a better solution in sight. We saw families with young babies were only allotted one diaper a day. The average wait time of 2-3 years for people seeking asylum, processing about eight asylum requests a week.

The confusing part was that people were smiling. The camp was bustling but peaceful. When we asked people how they felt about their circumstances, they said the camp was better than the life they left. That sentiment tried my understanding. It forced me to realize that living in abject poverty without the assurance providing for your family was better than the lives they left in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other countries.

We met seven teenage boys in the camp without any family. They told us they left their homes in fear of being kidnapped by ISIS or the Taliban. Each boy came alone from various countries, walked across Turkey, paid around $1000 to take a boat to the island. They wished for school classes so they can work on their English and opportunities to play sports. What struck me was that some people might be fearful of one of these boys, seeing them as the terrorists they were escaping from.

The problems are complex, but the image of God is in every person we meet. And God calls us to serve the least of us without regard for who they are, where they come from, or what they have done. And that means these refugees too. My hopes and prayer are that God equips with more than we could ever ask or imagine as we take up to call to serve these people.

Most of our team went home after the debriefing on the final morning, while Rich and I stayed to attend a conference for refugees hosted by a BelPres ministries partner. We witnessed a couple of things that God was showing us in Greece.

First, that so many Muslim refugees are becoming Christians shows that this is a movement of God, not of human making. God is doing this, but we are being invited to participate in it.

Second, the ways that the refugee crisis also involves difficult political questions regarding immigration and culture. It obscures the human experiences of the refugees as well as the good news of what God is doing here. You won’t hear the stories we heard on the news in the US, but God is bringing hope and healing and maybe remaking the Middle East into a Christian region.

Third, we were clearly on God’s agenda, not ours. Starting with our original plan for Beirut, many of our plans fell through. Not having international driver’s licenses in Lesvos resulted in us getting a driver who paid very close attention to our conversations about Jesus. We didn’t know what we would be doing from one day to the next, but God arranged the schedule, and we are coming home with great stories of God on the move. The stories need to be told because they show that Jesus is alive and bringing revival to the Muslim world.

Kairos- God is Moving

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing[a] on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  Isaiah 19:23-25 (NIV)

We set out Friday morning for Beirut, but our missionaries warned us not to come because of public rioting. We flew over most of Europe with two connections as God didn’t just change our plans; He wrecked them. It’s a humbling lesson in who is in charge and whose mission this is anyway.We finally got off the plane in Athens 23 hours after our departure from Seattle.

The first stop was Areopagus, a smoothed rock formation in a grove of olive trees and at the base of the Acropolis. Paul addressed the crowds in Acts 17 here. What a blessing to worship at a nearby Afghan church, started by and ministering to refugees. After the service, we met privately with the local missionaries who shared how they are raising up Christian refugee leaders to lead the new believers. These people are on the front lines! Praying over them brought tears to many of us.
At an Iranian Evangelical Church, we met privately with an Iranian refugee in Greece illegally and homeless living outside an Orthodox church for nearly 20 years. An intelligent carpenter who speaks numerous languages, he described a dangerous life on the streets, with no help from the government. He is angry, hopeless, and not a believer, pushing back hard on the value of prayer to have any impact on his life. We left him with broken hearts, wondering what we could do to help him. We stopped on the sidewalk and prayed for him.

The evening found us in Victoria Square, a destination for many refugees when they first arrive. Previously, it was filled with refugees sleeping and living in the park. Now, police are present because human trafficking is happening, mostly of young boys. Refugees linger there, with nothing else to do but wait the three year period for their paperwork to go through.

The next day, we faced the reality that it is not safe for us to go to Beirut, so we asked God to show his plan for us here in Athens. He provided a “chance” meeting with a refugee from Iran who lost literally everything to follow Christ and an inspiring time with the leader of a flourishing nonprofit that serves thousands of refugees and sees God show up daily to perform amazing miracles. We left with the overwhelming and unmistakable feeling that we had been on holy ground.

At Good Samaritan the next day, we spent time with the children of mothers classes learning English and other skills. A welcoming place for women and children refugees (Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, and Africans) providing various services. Many of the children loved conversing in very good English and taking photos with us. We prayed for an Iranian employee who shared his heartbreaking and astonishing story. We laid hands on him for protection, safety, and his strength while he brings others to Christ. The prayers coming out of our team members were straight from God. He started to shake and dropped to his knees as the Holy Spirit filled this man up along with us and the room we were in.

The following day, we traveled about an hour outside of Athens to help our host lead the conference teaching the biblical view of marriage and parenting to mostly Iranian refugees, knowing that they have in many different cultural practices. In our free time, the men and women played a lively game of dodgeball. This was something that would never happen in Iran, our mission partner told us. Amazing things happen when the Holy Spirit is at work, and we respond to the guidance given.
The heartache from more stories of the pain of being a refugee separated from parents and other relatives and not having the dignity of caring for their families well themselves. Many are still separated from wives and children. Please pray for the Lord of us all to continue revealing himself to them in any way he pleases to do so.

God is on full display in Rwanda

It has been nearly a year and a half since my two-week stay in Rwanda. There’s no doubt it was transformative and life-changing. When time allows distance from an impactful experience, I can discern more keenly what God was doing with me and the lasting transformation He has brought into my life through that experience.

Reflecting on what it meant to join BelPres’ mission team to Rwanda, three primary emphases struck me. First, top of mind, are the people I developed friendships within Rwanda. As an example, Jado – our cook at the AEE guest house – caringly provided delicious food daily and authentically was interested and concerned for what we did and who we are.

Along with so many others, Jado embodies the second emphasis – the relentless commitment of hospitality displayed by our hosts. Sharing a meal in a community leader’s home, being welcomed into a traditional village celebration, we were always esteemed with respect and honor. At times, I was a bit uncomfortable, perhaps feeling not deserving. It reflected the open hearts of a people whose chief commitment is to love God and all neighbors.

My final reflection about my mission experience: God is on full display in Rwanda. Everywhere you turn, people demonstrate their obvious affection for Jesus. All ages dance in joy, sing with strength, and live their commitments to Christ publicly – a stark contrast to a passive reserve that shrouds our faith in America. Forever changed by Rwanda, I continuously pray that God will provide more: more sustainable support for the youth of Rwanda, more hospitality and expressiveness in my faith, and more opportunities for our community to travel to Rwanda to experience firsthand the love of God through the global mission.

Our Only Refuge is God

Breakfast was shared with a Kurdish believer. Kurdistan no longer a country but a region across significant areas of the Middle East since the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the British Mandate.

Since then, the Kurdish have fought their ruthless oppressors fearlessly, determined to gain their lost sovereignty once more. Thirty years ago, there was not one Christian among them, but recently, thousands have entered the Kingdom.

The brother at our table was a ‘Peshmerga.’ The Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, where Iraqi forces have no access. Many months he fought against ISIS in Kirkuk. He fleed for his life since he is at risk of being hunted down by the Islamic State of Iran for being communist.  

He arrived on a Greek island where ‘Peshmerga,’ atheist, communist, and the scars of torture on his body, help him attain asylum and a Greek passport. His need for food brought him to one of our centres, where he spent hours and much energy arguing the ‘Illusion of God’ with several dear brothers that befriended him. The discussions led nowhere.

Not long after, he was spotted by the Islamic Iranian intelligence and ended up stretched on a hospital bed, sunk in a coma that lasted several days. While in a coma, when the resistances of mind and heart are subdued, this fighter born seemingly with a Kalashnikov in his hand, met the Lord Himself! “Get up,” He said, “And forgive!”

So, he got up, he forgave and allowed the Lord to find Him.

“My mother to who lost me for seven years to warfare fighting against the ISIS was disturbed. She preferred a communist, atheist guerilla to a Christian son. Most of my friends wondered, why on earth would I want to become Christian when asylum and a Greek passport was already granted. But I SAW HIM! Now, I dream of the day that I can go back to Kurdistan and make known this God that is real, that has a mouth and speaks and has ear and hears, and has a Father’s heart”.

At present, this dear brother, sometimes homeless and other times with his belly empty, waits for the Lord to unfold why He brought him to the West and appeared to him. This is just the beginning of a divine destiny. Peshmerga means those who are able to stand before death and face death! Pray for this precious trophy, that he will become one of those that are able to stand in the same fearless way with the Warrior who has apprehended him.

In the last few months, the refugee situation here in Greece has entered a new season. In the past two years, the UNHCR paid for the rent and food supplies for refugees that came to Greece seeking asylum. They are withdrawing their financial support and provision claiming two reasons; their inability to sustain an ever-increasing number and that in retrospect, the program is not helping refugees integrate socially or get jobs and the local communities.

The program phase-out began in March, and rents and food cards ceased by the end of summer for those who entered the country in 2016. Thousands of people might be in the streets this winter, at point zero once again, without food and shelter. The estimated number of registered refugees currently is over 100 000, with a steady stream of 600 arrivals daily, not including those unregistered.

Panic was the first visitor that followed the UN announcement. What can we do? Then the next question surfaced-did God bring all those people in Europe depending on UN money?

And our attention was drawn to Matt. 14, Mark 6 Luke. 9 when,

…There were many people coming and going, and the disciples did not even have time to eat…

…and He saw a great multitude and had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…

…and the day began to decline, and the twelve came and said to Him, 

‘Send them away, to the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodgings and something to eat, for here we are in a desolate place’.

…But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away; YOU give them something to eat’.

… ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish’. …

… ‘Bring them to Me’. …

And, ’Have them recline to eat in groups of about fifty each’.

And they did so and had them all recline. …

And He took the loaves and the fish and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the multitude…’  

God put the key to the situation in their hands! Provision was, as always is, only from Him, but the response of faith that appropriates the provision must always come from us. It takes faith to sit down, at the evening of an utterly exhausting day, in a ‘desolate’ place, 5000 hungry and tired men and as many women and children, in groups of fifty, when you know you have nothing to feed them with, obeying just the bidding of the Master and looking continually at His face! It took faith to start giving out the provision that came steadily from the Master’s hands, for He did not produce it all that food at once, in a big pile!

Faith is a stranger to common sense, and common sense is not faith. As the Lord is allowing the UN provision to be withdrawn, we believe that He has provision for this new situation that is developing, and He is calling us to enter it by faith.

Facing winter’s threat, we now find ourselves plunged into similarly impossible circumstances, bewildered as to how thousands can not only be fed but also housed; it is a ‘desolate’ situation, at the ‘end of a day’ that has been exhausting for them and us, but we feel that His bidding is, ‘Don’t be just resigned to do what you can; bring what you have to Me and do what you can but by faith, looking continually at My face, not measuring the circumstances.’

We might be on the threshold of a winter of great discontent, but we are convinced that we are also on the threshold of an exciting new season. Join us in prayer, that we will be those who can rise by faith to respond to Gods bidding, taking from His hands His continual provision, and never losing sight of His eyes.We are now in need of the faith that defies common sense and connects us with Him that does the impossible. May we all know the vast portions of His secret manna.

Compassion Fuel

Imagine a tall, solid Guatemalan woman wearing a hand-woven skirt and traditional white blouse with her green and blue school colors embroidered at the neckline. Myrna is the director of Christian Education at the Horeb School in Cotzal.

In July 2019, Suzanne and Ken Popp joined the Nicolás Fund for Education (NFE) mission trip to the Nicolás Christian School (NCS). At the teacher professional development workshop which NFE offers to educators around the country, Suzanne met Myrna, and through an interpreter, learned about her life: how she traveled as a missionary to Morocco for a year, how she worked with AIDS orphans there, how—at age 57—she adopted two Guatemalan children. Suzanne felt inspired by her compassionate work for peace and justice.

For most of their lives, Ken and Suzanne Popp have lived lives of compassion. Just out of college, they spent two years in Africa with the Peace Corps. Since then, they have led and joined many mission trips to various countries. For ten years, Ken worked as a project manager for World Vision, and in retirement, the Popps founded and led VillageSteps, an organization dedicated to improving primary education in sub-Saharan Africa.

When asked what has fueled their compassion, Suzanne says: “The realization of what a difference one person can make, how you can change things, open people’s eyes.” She tells the story of a friend in Senegal who learned of a child falling out of a tree and breaking his leg. The friend gave the hunters who found the child a dollar to take the child to the hospital. A week later, the hunters returned the money. When asked how the child was doing, they replied, “Oh, we didn’t want to hurt your feelings. We laid the child in the bush. No one recovers from a bone being broken like that”. These people needed to know that something could be done needed their eyes opened to the realities of modern medicine.

Suzanne also says, “Children are so important. A person or generation can be changed by one person’s words or actions.” Oprah Winfrey tells her own story of the power of a person. When a well-dressed woman visited her elementary classroom, she told Oprah that she had bee-stung lips, encouraging Oprah’s self-confidence and ambition and making her feel beautiful.

Compassion sometimes involves relieving suffering in joyful ways. At the primary schools near Nebaj where NFE provides educational enrichment, Suzanne read “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “Rumpelstiltskin”—through a translator—to the children. At the end of each story, she provided crayons and paper and asked the children to illustrate the stories. At one school, two boys—not enrolled—wandered in and listened. Since they had no desks assigned to them,
they crawled down on the floor head-first under a scruffy desk topped with dilapidated boxes where they drew and colored pictures of the story. At another school, after “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” two girls wearing sports uniforms acted out the story using their hands as horns and a table as the bridge. The drama of fighting a troll caught their imaginations, and they readily volunteered to put on a show for the other children.

More moments of joy ensued when the team conducted a meeting during the day for parents to solicit their feedback. Translation moved from Ixil, the villager’s native language, to Spanish to English and back again. NFE makes it a practice to seek parent feedback on school practices and decisions. Fathers left their farming and showed up in their best clothes. Mothers came in their traditional garb. After the meeting, the team formed an inner circle while the parents formed an outer circle. The parents prayed—out loud, all at once—for the school and the team. The team heard and felt the power! As Suzanne recounts these education enhancing experiences, her voice vibrates with joy and enthusiasm.

“Education is the cornerstone to enabling all children to hold the promise of a brighter future,” Ken writes on the VillageSteps webpage. Education is compassion. Let your compassion fuel up and out as you consider Myrna’s work with Moroccan orphans and as you reflect on the lives and words of Ken and Suzanne Popp.

Quenching Thirst in Haiti

Haiti is an island country of friendly faces and many needs. Organization for Integrated Rural Development for Northwest Haiti (ODRINO) has two central ministries in Haiti. First is helping spread the Gospel and supporting the churches in spreading the Gospel. One of the main ways we do this to support the programs of local churches in our area. It can include helping them with evangelism, church planting, Chrisitan elementary education, discipleship, VBS and sports camps, or encouragement.

The other main track of ODRINO is supporting local churches to respond to the overwhelming physical needs in the church and around them. We do this by helping with church and school construction, drinking water projects, irrigation and agriculture, and other community development type projects.

Our ministry is also involved in immediate disaster response and long-term recovery efforts following natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. At the moment we are in the midst of the worst drought since 1992.

Over fifteen years, we helped the churches at Poste Metier and Baie des Moustiques build a gravity drinking water system. This water system has over 40 miles of pipe and serves from 12,000 to 15,000 people depending on rainfall and the time of the year. The water system relies on the participation of the people who use the water. A small yearly contribution to help pay for fittings and repair materials and volunteer labor when digging is necessary is how the people maintain it. The initial part of the water system started operating in 1992. This water system has delivered over two billion gallons of clean, safe drinking water.

Each year the water system has a general assembly. All the people who use the water expansion, and issues are discussed, and the Gospel is shared. We provide Bibles and hymnals for door prizes. For a lot of people who are struggling to get enough to eat for their families, this is the only way they have to get one of these precious books.

Thank you for your support and prayers for the people of Haiti.

Being Good Neighbors in Japan

In the late ’80s, Peter and Wendi Thomson were called to serve as missionaries in Japan. Sent out by BelPres, other congregations, and believers who understand the value of incarnational ministry (living out Christ in front of others), they are passionate about seeing lives transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. God’s modus operandi, as seen in John 1:14, talks of Christ coming to Earth to provide salvation and restitution: “Jesus became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” How incredible! Likewise, the Thomson’s have “moved into the neighborhood” in Japan and here are two stories of loving where they are.

Recently, while working through the gospel of Mark, their church fellowship discussed repentance. Recognizing that neither the Japanese nor the English word for repentance adequately conveys the Biblical meaning (which is to turn and face God), Peter stood and physically demonstrated turning 180 degrees in order to come face-to-face with God. Only by looking at God and acknowledging that salvation is fully His work, do we receive both recognition of sin and forgiveness. This resonated strongly with Mrs. F, a young mother with children in their English program, recently coming to the fellowship. Wendi meets with her regularly to read the Bible and pray. The day after the discussion of repentance, Mrs. F was researching the meaning of her first name. By breaking down the characters, she discovered the meaning to be a person holding out their hand to receive help from God! Mrs. F shared that, throughout her life, she has found it difficult to rely on people for help, and this has been a barrier for her faith in God. Learning the concept of turning toward God, coupled with discovering that God ordained her name when she was born, has warmed her heart to receive Jesus more.

The Thomson’s vision in Sanda is to create kingdom communities among existing communities. What does this mean? Simply, taking the Church to people and seeing society transformed. Though they have been in Japan for over 30 years, God always surprises with what He does. This school year, Peter was approached by the PTA of their son’s high school to become the PTA president. “What! Are you crazy?! You want a foreigner to head up the PTA of a Japanese high school?” Peter was honored to be nominated but knew it was a very time-consuming position. While wishing to serve the students, parents, and teachers, Peter felt he should decline. However, every couple of weeks, there were persistent phone calls asking him to reconsider. After further declines and much-continued prayer, the Thomson’s finally realized that Jesus himself was the one asking! Amazing doors have opened! They meet regularly with the principal and administration, are connecting with other school leaders and have a whole new relationship with students and families at the school. Serving in this capacity has allowed deeper influence for Christ in previously untouched communities and to love where they are.

Thank you for praying for the people of Japan!

Music on a Mission

 

During a mission trip to Rwanda in 2018, Frank St Peter shared photos and videos of New Hope Worship Team leading Sunday worship with our Rwandan friends. They were overjoyed to see the team singing and praising God in Kinyarwandan. As friends looked closer, the repeated comment was, “You know Adrien Misagara and Gentil Mis?” We continued to hear this throughout our trip.
It turns out that Adrien and Gentil are the top Gospel recording artists in Rwanda. Who knew? The students at Rwanda Faith Academy(RFA) did and were so excited, and asked us if Gentil and Adrien can come to their school. Frank shared this with Gentil and Adrien who were excited to hear that their music had touched the students and staff.
This February, Adrien called Julie St Peter to contact the Headmaster at RFA to get permission to visit the campus. He and Gentil were headed to Rwanda on tour in March and Adrien wanted to include RFA during his tour of Rwanda. Julie was only too happy to do so and contacted Emmanuel, the Headmaster right away. His enthusiastic “Yes” was shared with Adrien within hours. Adrien shared that Evan Jarrell, BelPres Director of Modern Worship, was also coming on their tour, this was exciting news!
When Adrien and Evan stepped onto the RFA campus in March, the students and staff gave them an enthusiastic welcome. The entire student body and teachers greeted them at the entrance to the school and walked with them to the assembly area. Adrien started with songs that were popular in Rwanda, and the students sang along. This filled Adrien with joy. He then introduced Evan, who began by teaching them a Kinyarwandan song he wrote. The students clapped and sang along with Evan, then Adrien joined in. It was a time of great warmth and friendship for all.
Headmaster Emmanuel shared his gratefulness to God for guiding both artists to RFA and thanked for their hearts to RFA. He expressed his appreciation for Alexis Ruhumuriza and all the supporters in America for their efforts to prepare this day of song and praise to God.
One of the teachers expressed Adrien and Evan had “crowned the day,” but he was short on words to express the emotions of the staff for all the joy brought by Adrien and Evan’s visit. One male student said he hoped that God would make way for them to return and give a full concert on the RFA campus. One female student told me she appreciated the visitors and thanked the friends of RFA in America who made this possible.
Adrien and Evan shared with me that the day at RFA was a highlight among many memories of their time in Rwanda. They were grateful for the time to be with students and staff and share a time of worship and praise to God through music.
It was a day our students and staff with not soon forget!

Jesus For All

She sat across the table from me, her young sons flanking her, one on her left and one on her right. Seven days earlier they had given everything they had left to a man in Turkey to take them to Athens. The journey took them through the forest, along a muddy path by the river, evading fences, wild animals and border guards. They traveled at night and hid during the day. On the fourth day, they ran out of food. On the seventh day, they arrived in Athens, cold, wet, dirty, hungry and with no possessions. She had no one to turn to for help and no place to go. But then someone told her about a church, which was helping refugees, so she went there. They welcomed her and found her a place to stay in an old unheated building. Now she was sitting across from me to receive a free meal. I, along with a small team from

Seattle, had come to serve her and the nearly one hundred other refugees who were there that day. As she told me her story, her hands shook uncontrollably. She didn’t know if it was the cold weather or the trauma she had been through which caused the shaking.

Her story was that after a few years of marriage, her husband began to beat her regularly. Several times he made arrangements to loan her to his friends for a price. Finally, she had enough. She got brave and divorced him. At first, he didn’t want anything to do with her or the boys. So he gave them to her. But then he changed his mind and asked his friends to help him kill her. So she fled and left her country out of fear for her life. First, she went to Turkey. But when they told her they were going to send her back, she found the man who took her to Athens. “Today,” she said, “I am going to apply for my papers from the government.” These papers would allow her boys to go to school in Athens and permit her to work. But documents like this, she lamented, could take several months and sometimes up to a year to receive. After we ate, I gathered our group around her and prayed for her and her boys. Then she left.

The next day, we came again to serve meals. There she was, sitting at a different table, a big beautiful smile foretelling the announcement she was about to make. She had received her papers! But Jesus goodness and love was not unnoticed. Her oldest son explained that the reason why this happened was that we had prayed to our God! And like so many Muslims before them, who have fled their countries in the Middle East, this mother and her two boys eventually committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Two months later, the pastor of the church we served in baptized them.

We are living in unprecedented times. We see the most significant turning of Muslims to faith in Christ since the birth of Islam. Coincidentally, Christians have been praying for Muslims to encounter the Risen Christ for over 30 years. Today’s movements are fueled by three decades of faithful prayers.

I am telling you this because May 6 marks the beginning of Ramadan for our Muslim neighbors and continues through June 4. Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims. I want to invite you to join with Christians all over the world in praying for them and using something called the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” to help you. The Prayer Guide will introduce you to specific Muslim people and places where they live, like Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, and Sudan. You will read the stories of Muslims who have encountered Jesus and learn specific things to pray for during this holy month. You can pick up a copy of the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” in the lobby today or download a PDF version at www.30daysprayer.com. Join the movement.

Gifts Continue to Give with the Alternative Gift Market

Thank you to everyone who purchased gifts from the BelPres Alternative Gift Market (AGM) last Christmas Season. The total raised by the 2018 AGM was $62,266. Every penny of the AGM funds goes directly toward your purchased gift. The funds are used by global and local ministries to support special projects and programs that fall out of their budget scope. It is exciting to send the money out and see the fruit from our support.
The cover of the 2018 AGM catalogue featured a refugee worker in one of the gardens. One of the global gift items was garden supplies for the refugees starting a new life and settling in Washington. This gift covered materials like seeds and tools to equip refugees to work in their garden preparing, planting, growing and harvesting their crops. Your donations raised over 1000 dollars for this gift.
World Relief shared new photos of recipients using tools bought with the most recent donations, and we want to share those with all of you who give so generously to support AGM each year. Chandra is from Bhutan, and he is holding some new tools that he will use to prepare his garden. Laylay is from Burma and is working in the garden with her daughter and her new hoe to turn over her garden bed winter cover crop.
Many thanks, again, for your support for the Alternative Gift Market. Your gifts make a difference in lives in our community and communities around the world.

Audience of One

Blogging for me is more therapeutic than anything else. Lately, people are asking me why I don’t blog more and when am I going to write again. Honestly, writing is hard. I’m not particularly good at it, and yet, it helps me process what is going on inside; especially, in my heart. I appreciate my friends’ encouragement though, so I’ll try to write more.

Looking back at my Lenten journey in college, it was a negative experience of my faith in Christ. After gathering on campus, we would all head out to different restaurants to just hang and connect. The only reason I knew it was Lent was all the water bottles everyone had, and no one was ordering food, even though we were at a restaurant. I remember asking: “Why is everyone carrying a water bottle? Why is no one eating at that whole table?” Oh yeah, it’s Lent! And they’re fasting. I thought why in the world meet in a restaurant if they weren’t going to eat. It was evident to everyone around them that they were fasting. Some were happy to talk about it. From that experience, I realized I couldn’t stand the public persona of spiritual discipline. It all looked and smelled of hypocrisy.

Jesus said, Matt. 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to people that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus had it right: if you engage in spiritual disciplines, do it in private. God wants an audience of one; just you and Him. Even if you have to stop and break a spiritual discipline (because not doing so would make it public), then I would do it. You can reengage in a spiritual discipline afterward. Once it becomes public, there goes the ‘audience of one.’ More important than the discipline is our relationship with God. Since then, I rarely tell anyone of my spiritual discipline practice. I am far from where I want to be with spiritual disciplines, and I hope to continue becoming more and more like Jesus. He did things right.

Survivor Cambodia

The DOVE Phnom Penh Onyx students, staff and volunteers headed to a retreat on an island off the coast of Cambodia, Koh Rong. It was the location for two seasons of the “reality” show, Survivor. As we approached the coast, it started raining. Tropical Storm Pabuk was in the Gulf of Thailand and authorities warned boats to expect high waves. On the bus ride, I wondered if we were going to make a new episode of Survivor. The staff monitored and prayed about the storm.
An Onyx lesson asks students to imagine that they are a boat, first undergoing repairs in dry dock and then setting sail to test seaworthiness. Lay, the DOVE Phnom Penh Coordinator, thought it fitting to end the year departing from a real port to sail on the ocean. When I heard they were going to Koh Rong, I was afraid I would get seasick crossing in a fishing boat. When Lay said they would take the 50-seat express ferry which is smoother and only takes 45 minutes, I decided to go. Despite Pabuk, the ferry was still running so we took off. I recalled that Jesus is Lord over the wind and waves.

Overall, the only significant effect of Pabuk was that we got seasick. When unloading another group of passengers at an island, waves near shore were so strong they couldn’t step onto the dock. Being tossed up and down, everyone started to look green.  I took off my life jacket and stood near the front deck where there was a breeze. We waited while a smaller boat was sent to transport the others ashore. We continued to Koh Rong and were able to step out on the dock. Friday night, the high surf washed up lots of trash and flotsam onto the beach, but it cleaned up quickly.

Making a scrapbook for the ensuing year, students spent Saturday morning reflecting on what they learned about God, themselves and relationships with others. They also made 2-3 year plans to fulfill or discern God’s vision for their life. That night, they took turns sharing and then prayed blessings for each other to fulfill those visions.

Because of the waves on Saturday, the ferry wasn’t running. The ferry ran again on but arrived late with oversold seats. After some discussion, they let everyone board. Lay and some other passengers wound up standing or sitting on luggage. I noticed two staff members, Serey and Virak, put on life jackets. I followed their lead! The ride back was a lot rougher, so I was grateful to dock back on the mainland. The one thing that approached a Survivor episode was Serey killing a 2-inch centipede crawling next to me on my bed. I carefully shook out all my clothes before and after packing at home.

The real survivors at Koh Rong were the Onyx students persevering the past year to finish the program. Instead of forming alliances against each other to become the sole survivor, they became a family where people share honestly.  Moreover, they’ve shown they have the heart to serve others.  Two students, Ngechsor and Pheakday, travel back to their province on Saturdays after class to share the Onyx lessons with the local church youth. Also, another small group planned and carried out a children’s outreach at a resettlement village near Phnom Penh, where one of them lives. As these students set sail after Onyx, we look forward to hearing further adventures of how God works through them to bless their communities.