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War Rages in Aleppo As Ceasefire Collapses

Syrian forces pounded rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 300 others, an activist group reported. The bombardment destroyed residential centers, overwhelmed hospitals and angered diplomats meeting at the United Nations.

More than 100 million expected to watch Monday’s presidential debate

As many as 100 million viewers are expected to tune in Monday night for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, one that promises to be entertaining, if not blood pressure-raising.

Israeli forces arrest 19 wanted Palestinians, uncover W.Bank weapons workshops

The Israeli Defense Forces in cooperation with the Shin Bet security service arrested 19 wanted Palestinians overnight in the West Bank and uncovered three weapons manufacturing workshops.

Haiti: of poverty and the hope of Christmas

Haiti (MNN) — According to data from the World Bank and 24/7 Wall St., Haiti is the poorest country in the world.

(Photo courtesy of For Haiti With Love)

(Photo courtesy of For Haiti With Love)

Five years ago, more than half of Haiti’s population lives on less than $1 a day, while about 80 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day.  Today, despite substantial rebuilding assistance and aid after the 2010 earthquake, the change has been infinitesimal.

When the choice to stay alive is between food and…food, toys don’t figure into the equation much at all.  However, children need toys to play with, to express themselves, and to love.  Visitors note how content the children are to play with stick dolls and balls of scrap paper and tape…providing a new doll or a new ball isn’t a gesture meant to take that creativity away or interfere with the contentedness of the families; rather, it’s an expression of care.

Combine that with a unique celebration of Christmas, and the opportunities for God to move explode exponentially.  Christmas in Haiti is a big deal. It’s celebrated, and decorations are everywhere.  Houses get repainted…people get dressed up.  It’s as big a cultural deal as it is a reminder of the birth of Christ.

(Photo courtesy For Haiti With Love)

(Photo courtesy For Haiti With Love)

For the poor, it may be an entirely different story.  Not being able to join the community celebration isolates people and reinforces their difficult lives.  For Haiti With Love’s Eva DeHart says that’s why they host a special Christmas party — and only invite the poor.

“The goal is to really make Jesus alive for them, that He is a part of their daily lives; that He is someone they can call on in times of need, that they thank Him for the blessings they do have.”

One of the features of the party is The JESUS Film in Haitian Creole for children.  In December, DeHart shared this memory about showing the JESUS Film at the Christmas party:  “I can remember the first time years ago when Don took the adult version to Haiti and had the staff watch it — even though most of them knew the story, they cried through His suffering and the film truly touched them.”

Party goers also get a hot meal, a rarity for some, and a special sweet treat.  Yes, it builds into a Christmas memory, but it’s much more than that. ”They start the day with the full message of the Gospel. The rest of it is God’s people sharing God’s food, and God’s love with them so they have a very special day to celebrate Him.”

A day in the life of one of the poorest of the poor is all about necessity. Extras aren’t in their lexicon.  When For Haiti With Love throws this party,  the extras are included: toys, jewelry, card games, books.

This year, with the shipping deadline running down to the wire, DeHart says there was a curveball. “We lost a dear friend of many years who had a ministry.  For the last couple of years, he has donated three full pallets of gifts and clothing for the kids in Haiti. That’s a pretty major gap to have to fill.”

The ministry is scrambling to collect what’s needed.  Think of it in terms of a toy drive a few months early.  “We need for people to think in terms of small toys, dolls. Kids like trucks….”

Funds sent for this purpose will also allow the ministry team to purchase what’s needed in Florida and pack up on the shipping container…which brings us to the money needed to send it. It costs thousands of dollars to send the shipping container, which takes six weeks to arrive in the docks in Haiti, and is followed by levies for the contents of the container.  Any help, says DeHart, is appreciated.

(Photo courtesy For Haiti With Love)

(Photo courtesy For Haiti With Love)

One last thought.  For Haiti With Love’s team is boots-on-the-ground in Cap Haitien.  They’re running the burn clinic, the food program, and the building program.  They work with the Church to meet the ongoing needs, with Matthew 25:35-40 in mind.

 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

This is about connecting the churches of the First World and Third World that helps the materially and spiritually poor.

DeHart adds: “Because of this experience, and because of seeing the film, we (by introducing the hope of Christ) can make a difference in their lives. If we make a difference in their lives, we’re going to make a difference in their family and in their mom and dad.”

Pray that the story of Jesus will touch the next generation in Haiti.

The Church’s growth-spurt in a surprising country

Iran (MNN) — Which country do you think has the fastest growing Church in the world? China? Russia? Maybe a country in South America?

Here’s a hint: the official name of the country starts with ‘The Islamic Republic’.

Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Marytrs, USA reveals, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is actually the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest, something that would be pretty surprising to most Christians.”

iran-MMAP-mdThe situation is bursting with irony. The Islamic Republic of Iran is listed on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List in the top ten hardest countries to be a believer. And yet, last year, Iran saw a 19.6 percent uptick in the number of Christians — more than any other country.

“Conversion is illegal, the above-ground churches have almost all been closed down,” says Nettleton. “So it is a country that has worked very hard to eliminate Christianity, and particularly to eliminate Muslim conversion to Christianity. But it’s the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest.”

The laws that backfire

Why is the Iranian Church going through such a growth spurt?

Nettleton shares, “I’ve had Iranian Christians tell me, ‘The greatest missionary in Iran, the greatest evangelist we’ve had in Iran was the Ayatollah Khomeini.’ This is the guy who took power in 1979, he converted Iran to the Islamic Republic [saying], ‘We’re going to run our country according to what Mohammed would have us do, we’re going to run our country according to the Koran.’

A mosque in Tehran, Iran.

A mosque in Tehran, Iran.

“Now here we are thirty-plus years later, and most Iranians have rejected Islam precisely because of that. The country is run by the Mullahs. The government says, ‘We’re doing everything according to Islamic principles.’ So if the government doesn’t work, if there’s still corruption, if there’s still poverty, then that must mean Islam doesn’t work…. That failure has really, in the eyes of the people of Iran, become the failure of Islam.”

According to Nettleton, the Iranian people are going through honest introspection about what they’ve witnessed in their country, and what that means for their lives…and their souls.

“I’ve heard statistics as high as 70 percent of Iranians have rejected Islam. If you ask them in an honest conversation, ‘Do you believe Islam is the truth? Do you believe Islam is the way?’ They would say, ‘No! Of course not!’…. Then the Gospel comes and they say, ‘Wait, this is true. This is right.’ And I think that’s really the root cause of the growth in the Iranian church we see.”

A challenge to American Christians

All of this poses a thoughtful question: how would the American Church respond if we were in a similar situation? How would Western Christians react under restriction and persecution?

Nettleton reflects, “I think the story of the Church in Iran is an incredibly timely message for American Christians. If you think back to 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini takes power, the Mullahs are now in charge of the country. The natural response to that from the Church there would be, ‘Oh no! This is horrible! This is terrible! The Muslims have taken control of the government. What’s going to happen to us now?’ Now thirty years later it’s the fastest growing Church in the world.

“There are many American Christians who look at what’s happening in our country, they look at the presidential elections, they look at the Supreme Court decisions, and they say, ‘Oh no! The government is turning against Christianity, Christian principles are no longer being honored in Washington D.C., what’s going to happen to us?’”

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

We can take a cue from our Iranian brothers and sisters in Christ.

“The people of Iran would say, ‘Hang on. Serve the Lord, and see what He does. We’re not dependent on the government, we’re dependent on Christ.’”

To be clear, persecution is not something to be sought after for the sake of persecution. Religious freedom is an ideal to be sought after and advocated for.

But when persecution does enter our lives, we can respond as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 4:12b, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”

Therein lies our witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therein lies our opportunity to share our eternal hope with others who see us responding to hurt and shame in a way that doesn’t make sense to the world.

Nettleton emphasizes, “Our reliance needs to be on God, not on the protections offered by the Constitution, or the political process, or the U.S. government. Now I’m not saying don’t vote, I’m not saying don’t speak out. But understand that ultimately our reliance is on God.”

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ currently suffering intense persecution in dangerous places for their faith. Ask God to shore them up with His courage and strength to be a faithful witness for our Savior.

You can also sign up for Voice of the Martyrs’ free monthly newsletter.

SOAR Missionary and the family of Christ

United States (MNN) — We don’t often get the chance to tell the stories of mission workers behind the mission news we share. But it’s in these stories where we are reminded God has a plan and a way for all of us.

Joanna Mangione of SOAR International was thirteen years old when God made it clear what she was to do with her life.

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

She says, “It was at that time when I first felt the passion for ministry — specifically orphan ministry.”

Magnione was ready to hit the mission field right after high school, but was advised to go to college first. She got her degree at Moody Bible Institute in ESL teaching. During those four years at Moody, she went on several mission trips, the first being to Russia with SOAR.

In the beginning, she had no intention of working at SOAR, but God had other plans. After much prayer and teasing from her brother Greg who also works at SOAR, she realized the open job fit what God had equipped her with.

“Administration, teaching, ministry with orphans — I mean just one thing after another just kept clicking into place,” she says.

She began raising support. During that time, God made a way for her with a free apartment and car while she completed support-raising.

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

The Family of Christ

Mangione has been with SOAR for three years now, and God has taught her a lot. Actually, one of the lessons she has learned began when she visited Russia for the first time several years ago.

“I remember getting off the plane and being greeted by the Church there and being so overwhelmed by the love they gave.”

This was her first glimpse at what the international Church really looks like. SOAR is focused on supporting believers through the local Church any way they can.

Mangione says it’s a picture of Galatians 6:2: “It says ‘Carry each other’s burdens and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.’ We are family in Christ, and SOAR embodies that concept so well.”

In other words, they walk alongside the Church in Russia.

“We go in to support. We don’t want to go in to create a crutch, we don’t want to just do something to do something. We want to do something that is valuable and that is going to assist and is going to last, going to encourage, going to equip, and going to make eternal changes.”

She says her experience at SOAR has underlined the fact that we are family — the family of God.

“In America, we’re still independent, we have each other, yes, but we have our own families and sometimes we can forget there’s a bigger family we are part of. And you don’t forget that when you’re in Russia.”

One way we can cultivate that familial relationship is to support each other through ministries like SOAR.

The team at Sochi. (Photo courtesy of SOAR International).

The team at Sochi. (Photo courtesy of SOAR International).

Relationships and people

It seems when ministry is done correctly, it asks a lot of a person. And so it’s always interesting to find out what passion God has given them to keep them going.

Her first project after coming onto the SOAR team was a ten week summer camp where each team member was assigned to a group of orphaned children at the camp. Mangione was paired with three girls — the youngest being six-years-old and the other two being seven.

“I will never forget their faces,” she says, “I wanted to adopt them at that moment. Being part of something where you’re sharing the love with these kids who have never experienced love, don’t believe they’re worth anything, that’s what keeps me going.”

Through the years, she has been blessed to carry out the Gospel work in the lives she’s touched. She gets to see the hope glimmer in their eyes when she tells them about Jesus.

There are a variety of challenges unique to each missionary. But all of them face what Mangione says is her biggest challenge: Spiritual warfare on and off the field. “You have to constantly be in the Word, and constantly on your knees — and constantly in prayer.”

Sold on Family

If you haven’t figured it out, the theme of Mangione’s story is family. We call each other brothers and sisters in Christ, and she really gets that. It’s an encouragement and a challenge to all of us.

She believes in carrying each other’s burdens. So would you consider carrying one of hers?

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

Photo courtesy of SOAR International.

Missionaries have to raise support on top of their already packed schedules. Right now, Mangione is at 75 percent. If you feel called to bless this sister in this way, you can do so here.

She asks that you would pray for SOAR — picking one day of the week to pray over the various projects: the transition home, stuff a stocking and baskets of hope projects, the summer camps, staff members, pastors, and churches.

“Even if it’s two minutes long, it doesn’t have to be much, but set aside that time to pray. I mean, prayer can move mountains. It’s wonderful and powerful and we can use all the prayer we can get as we go and do the Lord’s work.”

You can also consider giving to SOAR, interning during their summer camps, or getting your church to partner with churches in Abkhazia. Check it out here.

Mangione leaves us with this humble reminder that God can use any of us to do His Work: “I’ve loved what I’ve gotten to do so far. I love what I get to do on a daily basis. God can work through the least of these and He’s shown that in my life, and sometimes you don’t have to be overseas full time to make a difference.”

The harbinger of Baal appears in New York City

So could the sign of Baal actually appear on American soil?

Creating Spiritual Rites of Passage for Your Children

Radio host and author Jim Burns draws upon his years of parenting experience and work with young people to provide parents with some creative and simple spiritual rites of passage for their kids.

How Can The Church Thrive In A Non-Christian World?

If our churches have to be a little more uncomfortable to us insiders in order to reach even one lost soul for Christ, that’s a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.

As we all know, it’s election season. This isn’t ever a rosy time for America, filled with rainbows and warm hugs. But if the political season of 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the United States is culturally confused. Competing narratives vie for attention, as we’re trying to figure out just who we are as a country. There was a time in our history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian.

Are we losing our Christian heritage? Were we ever a Christian nation to begin with? And how should churches respond to all of this?

However you read our country’s history, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have reached a cultural tipping point. Our society no longer assumes the gospel, which means the Church often stands at odds with the rest of society. That may make us uncomfortable and frightened. We like being in the majority.

But the gospel is always clearer in an age when it is not culturally assumed. The Early Church thrived in the midst of a hostile non-Christian world—not because they were more numerous or more powerful, but because they were both radically distinct and culturally relevant.

Radically Distinct

Many of us in North America, especially the older ones among us, grew up in a context where Christianity was assumed.

It may be more comfortable to grow up in an age when everyone calls themselves Christian, but I would argue that it’s actually harmful to the gospel. When the gospel doesn’t stand out as distinct, then we domesticate it into our tradition. That’s what we see going on in evangelical regions across the country.

Even now, upward of 75% of Americans call …

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