(Bossangoa, scene of some of the worst killings and suffering)
Last night's latest from 'Pierre':
“Thank you for your prayers. Macabre discoveries continue. A number of families in our neighborhood are suffering because of their young men being killed – some hung, others stabbed or beaten to death. Near our training centre, a number of bodies have been buried. Yet it’s Muslims who knew these people who have killed them. May God strengthen these families.
The French troops arrested one of the neighborhood’s rebel leaders, but another who was the most cruel managed to flee. Tomorrow we’ll watch and see if life gets back vaguely to normal. There are no cars on the roads except the military. The recent events have left us all unprepared so many are without any food reserves, which most couldn’t afford to stock up anyway.
We thank you and ask you to continue praying. I believe the hardest part is yet to begin – exhorting the victims to forgive."
Thanks for all the prayers, and for forwarding this post to as many people as possible. A number of you are asking to be kept up-to-date, so here are my two latest emails from ‘Pierre’:
Late last night – “Many people have abandoned their homes. Brothers Peter and Eric are currently seeking refuge at the airport because of the killings being unleashed on the local population. Pastor Paulin’s fled from his home. Muslim Seleka rebels invaded our home this afternoon but God protected us. It’s night now, may the Lord guard us. Many shops owned by Christians have been pillaged and looted by Muslims. The self-defense groups – FALSELY LABELED CHRISTIAN MILITIAS* – have exacted revenge on Muslim women and children. These militia members are made up of villagers, ex-Seleka defectors and members of the national army. No religion has ever formed a group or asked help from such a group, the Christians don’t recognize any legitimacy with any of these groups. The bodies of the murdered pastor and his sons still haven’t been picked up because the Red Cross vehicles can’t get through the Pk12 district roadblock.”
*The fact is, most of the country is at least nominally ‘Christian’ so any armed resistance against the Muslim Seleka is going to be ‘Christian’ in that sense, but how the international press has misled opinion and understanding at large with this politically-correct false characterization of the conflict! These are desperate people, initially organized together to defend themselves against rampaging Seleka. The Seleka have been decimating the country for months on end – actions that the international community has been aware of but has wanted to ignore until now – and tragically these ‘groupes d'auto défense’ are now equally misguidedly caught up in a frenzy of revenge and bloodletting.
And then this Friday morning, i.e. two hours ago:
“Last night was relatively calm, only our hearts are bleeding with pain this morning. Since yesterday, the Muslims in Km5 district are armed and out in the streets killing people. It has kicked off again this morning. They are stopping people getting to the main road, a law unto themselves. The Seleka have added alcohol into the mix, and in Fouh, Pk12 and Boïeng districts it’s an indescribable carnage. We are hunkering down in our home. The French patrols and African troops have not yet restored any semblance of control. The Seleka and Muslims in general are in a frenzy, not wanting to lose power. Uncertainty remains. Thank you for praying for me, that the Lord will give me wisdom, and please also pray for our protection.”
PLEASE FORWARD THIS FAR AND WIDE!
The dear brother I lived with in 1996 has just sent me this. It’s happening RIGHT NOW. The Central African Republic has been a living hell for months now. The international community are belatedly responding, but will it be too late as the CAR has seemingly become a failed state. Pierre wrote just now:
“Armed groups sowed panic today before retreating towards the end of the morning into the hills surrounding the capital, Bangui, leaving behind the population abandoned to themselves. As always, reprisals have followed. All the Muslims from Km5 (a district) came out with their weapons. They set fire to non-Muslim businesses. My son Mac had his store burned along with all his products. Word has come to me that the Seleka (Muslim rebels) are going from house to house looking for men, destroying property, bashing down doors and killing. The Elim pastor from PK12 district has been killed along with his grandchildren. Some folks have come to us to seek refuge. Please pray as we don’t know how things are going to turn out tonight. We’re talking of 63 dead and 65 wounded today. Thanks for your prayers.”
It is mind-blowing how the international press have reported on this crisis. For months Muslim Seleka rebels have been killing Christians, raping discriminately, looting and burning houses equally discriminately. I have plenty of documentary evidence and photos. The photo above was taken by my friend Pierre - but until recently the press chose not to refer to the religious aspect of the conflict. Why oh why this politically-correct avoidance of critiquing abuses perpetrated my misguided Muslims? And then the BBC chose yesterday to highlight an attach of reactionary Christian militia on innocent Muslims. That event took place and is desperately grim, and I grieve as much for innocent Muslims or Christians, they are all precious in God's sight. But there are constant attacks on Christians - there have been daily ones for months - and these don't merit mention. Tens of thousands of folks have been living/dying in the forest week after week without any access to water, medecine, shelter. Aargh! God help them! Please pray.
So our worker Jean-Claude shows up with his customary smile and cheeriness on Saturday. We actually call him ‘God-Bless-You-Jean-Claude’ because his every sentence ends with ‘God bless you’. He’s such a nice man. So kind. So gentle. Deeply holy. Would never steal, always reading the Bible, just top notch holy Joe – and on his T-shirt, there’s an irate golfer throwing his clubs into the lake with the caption ‘Life is Crap!’ GBYJC was happy to be photographed and I’m as yet undecided about telling him because it’ll mean he won’t wear it anymore and that’ll mean a few less chuckles for us in the future.
I love these T-shirt comedy moments. What goes through your mind when you see a woman in the stinking heat with a T-shirt saying: ‘We Eat Yellow Snow’?! And lest you say it’s cruel to laugh at these folks who simply don’t understand what they’re wearing, let me tell you I love laughing at myself and my race too. As my Rwandan friend Manasseh wrote to me last week, it definitely works both ways. He was at a church conference in the UK in which someone had proudly decorated a kanga (an East African cloth for women) on which were inscribed the words in Swahili: ‘The poison of a woman is her speech’ – priceless! Another friend, David, was in Costa with a Mandarin-speaking friend who spluttered in his coffee because the girl on the next table had a tattoo which meant: ‘Please do not let your donkey eat the flowers in this garden!’
Last week I was preaching at a school, and during the response time, when everyone had their eyes shut and were praying earnestly, I looked up and saw this guy:
Clearly, yet again, he didn’t know what it meant – but who prints T-shirts like this?! Why are green shirts for pimps? I’ve spent a long time dwelling on that one…
And the comedy factor is obviously exacerbated by the context of holy people engaging in holy activities with the stark juxtaposition of seriously unholy pronouncements on their garments – like the drummer in the worship band doing his thang energetically with his T-shirt reading: ‘I don’t care if I go to heaven – at least I’ve been to Hooters!’ (for UK folk, Hooters is a bar/restaurant chain in the US whose employees usually have a big pair of enhanced personalities). Or the soloist singing beautifully in a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘I’m not a gynecologist, but I can take a look if you like…’! Or the time at our international church Xmas celebration a few years back, when the cutest of cute little girls was wearing one which said: ‘Drink ‘til he’s cute!’ And one female Sunday school teacher got up before the congregation to orchestrate the recital of that week’s memory verse with her T-shirt that said: ‘Just Another Sexy Bald Guy’!
And in case I get accused of only picking on my own tribe, it’s not just Christians that fall unwittingly into this trap. My friend Ben in Guinea last Friday was talking to a devout Muslim, and his T-shirt really takes the biscuit:
Look into his eyes... I'm wondering if he's feigning ignorance...
My dear buddy Paul arrived in Burundi and hooked up with his local partner and colleague, a likewise devout man who beamed with joy and embraced his new boss with open arms and a shirt reading: ‘10 Inches of Pure Love’ – for real!
Lizzie G, my wife, used to teach in Nepal. One Christian speaker showed up from the States to preach for a week with a whole pack of T-Shirts branded by the sports chain 'Boca'. At the end of the week, someone explained to him that 'boca' is Nepalese for 'horny old goat'!
We’re drifting towards the less appropriate end of the spectrum. There are some really crude ones that simply don’t make the cut. My mate Graeme saw a taxi-moto rider without a passenger on the back. His one read: ‘If you can read this, the b**ch has fallen off’ – no wonder he didn’t have any customers!
And then some are tinged with pathos: Pippa, writing about her time in rural Uganda, told me how she saw an old man hobbling down a dirt track on the outsides of his feet, having obviously walked on two club feet all his life, with a T-shirt saying ‘I ran the 1986 Flora London marathon’. Emma was at an orphan nursery in Kenya when she saw a child wearing a top which said: ‘Right, that's it Mum, I’m off to live with Grandma!’
I’ll call it a day. A big life lesson from Africa is that life is tough enough as it is (indeed 'crap' for many), but laughter is truly one of God's best gifts. As you read this, I hope you've had a few chuckles.
God bless Africa!
21 November 2013
WWJD or WDJD?
Right, folks, this is the other entry in my new devotional book that I have doubts over whether to include. Essentially, I think it could have the wrong intention with some people - instead of stirring them up, it could leave them feeling discouraged, or confused as to why stuff like this doesn't seem to happen much any more in the West. So, please tell me if I should just remove it, I suspect that is what I'll do but am interested in your comments before definitively binning it.
WWJD or WDJD?
John 14:12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.”
What Did Jesus Do? We read about it in the gospels.
What Would Jesus Do today? The same as he did back then.
So what should we do today? Surely the same as his followers did then! What is holding us back? I guess if we’re honest, it’s largely fear. I know I care more for my reputation than God’s. What if I step out in faith and end up looking a fool…
Last year, we sent out 762 evangelists for two weeks in teams around Burundi, and – wait for it – they led over 18,000 people to Jesus! No doubt Burundi is more ripe than where you are, but it’s staggering nonetheless. And they didn’t just preach the gospel, they also demonstrated the power of the gospel by healing the sick and casting out demons, just as in the book of Acts.
For example, one notorious witchdoctor, Joselyne, gave her life to Christ. Her sister refused to believe, but brought over the demon-possessed neighbor, and challenged the believers: “If you heal this girl, I’ll know that you are serving the one true God.” God duly healed the girl, and 21 people (including the sister) promptly gave their lives to Christ. Beautiful!
Why not more such stories in the West, Lord? Honestly, I wrestle with that one. But our guys are bold practitioners, willing to suffer, and full of faith, so that would be part of a difficult and incomplete answer.
Don’t give in to the temptation to feel hopelessly inadequate and discouraged. Rather simply cry out to God for his kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. ‘What Did Jesus Do?’ is straightforward enough to verify. Whereas my concern with ‘WWJD’ is that it might allow me to justify by conjecture a more tame response to his dangerous call on my life.
Lord, I choose to do what you would do and plead that you’d let me do what you did. For your glory. Amen!
So folks, my new book, a 365-day devotional on choices, is almost ready. There are a few entries I'm thinking of discarding, so I wanted critical feedback from you. The following one sounds theologically dodgy - or does it...? Permission to be totally forthright, it'll help me make my mind up:
Road Map or Tour Guide?
John 16:13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
Sometimes in Christian circles we are given false choices – the Bible or the Spirit, conservative or charismatic, Word-driven or Spirit-led. They constitute a false dichotomy, but let’s explore them a little. The Bible can be likened to a road map, and the Holy Spirit can be likened to a tour guide. The guide knows the map and follows the map, and so I need to pay close attention to him. I can kid myself that I can get around fine by knowing the road map, but actually I need the tour guide to direct, reveal and empower me to get where I need to go and do what I need to do. The Pharisees ultimately made the mistake of seeing knowledge of the Word as an end in itself, rather than leading them to an encounter with the person of Jesus through the Spirit of God.
Bill Johnson wrote: “Those who feel safe because of their intellectual grasp of the Scriptures enjoy a false security. None of us has a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map – to go beyond what we know.” That sounds scary, and almost dangerous. But the Spirit’s highest goal is to bring glory to Jesus (v14), so he must lead us towards truth and not away from it.
Scary? Almost dangerous? Catherine Fox wrote: “The Biblical images to describe the work of the Spirit – fire, mighty rushing wind, flood etc – are exactly the sorts of things we pay to insure ourselves against!” Has keeping things tidy become our great commission? The difference between graveyards and nurseries is that one has perfect order whilst the other has life. If we live like we’ve got God figured out, we’ve missed him.
Lord, I desperately need both map and guide. Lead me into all truth today, even if it gets messy. Amen!
I have in front of me pictures sent by a friend of dead bodies, raped girls, burnt houses - of Christians.
(If you're new to this blog, scroll down to read other posts - this is no loony right-wing Christian rant. I love Muslims, whilst hating what is often perpetrated in their name)
What is going on in the Central African Republic is at its root an attempt at Islamisation by Seleka rebels. It is so profoundly frustrating, angering, and despairing for Christians in the CAR, and for me as a distant observer, that the international community has sought to avoid intervening and has been so hesitant to tell it as it is in the name of political correctness. Western mainstream media only ever belatedly and reluctantly calls out Muslim abuses, it seems, always balancing them out with Christian excesses at the same time. But no, church leaders and Christians in general have been targeted en masse for months on end, as literally dozens of emails sent to me by my close friend Pierre document (I lived with him and his family in 1995).
I quote from Barnabas Fund's recent prayer bulletin: "Christians have continued to be particular targets of the Islamist Seleka rebels’ brutal, violent campaign in the Central African Republic (CAR). On 8 October, a protest by Christians in Bangassou against the rebels’ murderous activities was forcibly stopped by armed Muslims. Ten people were killed in the violence that followed, and a further four lost their lives in further attacks on 12 October.
These are only the latest in a series of incidents; murder, rape and machete attacks have become commonplace. The Islamist government installed by the rebels has failed to curb their rampages or to protect CAR’s citizens. Although it announced on 13 September that the militia had been dissolved, most of the fighters have simply been absorbed into the regular army.
The chaos has been intensified by influxes of Islamic militants from other countries, leading to fears that CAR could become a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. An EU commissioner has warned that the country could turn into “another Somalia”.
Today, at least, the CAR has made it to the front page of the BBC Website. It should have been there almost daily for the last several months, such is the grimness of what is going on. Pierre tells me of the many hiding in the forests, now month after month, in the rainy season, with nothing. I cannot imagine how horrific it is. I don't want this blog to always have photos of dead bodies, so I'm not posting what he sent me, but I want to ask all of you to continue fervently lifiting them up. Has God forsaken His people? That is how many of them feel.
Thanks for praying, and please do share this with anyone and everyone.
For some context: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24802898
Her life began down a toilet.
Back in 1994, as the war continued to wreak havoc in Burundi, a nurse was in the public lavatories of a hospital when she spotted something down the toilet. It was a premature baby that had been abandoned, and somehow it – no, she – was still alive. The nurse fished her out, cleaned her off, and contacted my friend, Chrissie Chapman, who was the only person in Bujumbura taking in abandoned babies or orphans at the time. Chrissie took her in when she was five days old and gave her the most beautiful name, the only name, to capture what her little life embodied:
That’s my story, and I hope it’s yours. I could never get out of the pit by myself, but as with that nurse reaching down, God likewise plucked me out and rescued me. Help had to come from above, and so Jesus came down, took my stinking filth on him, and brought me life.
This precious 5lb baby was given antibiotics as a preventative measure because the open end of the umbilical cord had been in contact with the toilet water. It is likely these antibiotics, due to their strength in high doses, were what led to Grace losing any sense of hearing. A specialist diagnosed her deafness months later, but there was nothing medically to be done. However, a pastor came and prayed over her when she was 9 months old. He poured oil down her ears and anointed her. For the next three days she screamed every minute she was awake. Nobody knew what to do. It was only when someone slammed a door and Grace suddenly jolted that they realized her tears and screams were because she had been healed and could now hear what was going on.
I met Grace on my first trip to Burundi in 1997. I held her, played with her, and never forgot her because of her amazing story. I resolved that if the Lord ever gave me a daughter, I would name her after Grace.
Now fast-forward sixteen years. Grace just turned 19-years-old this week, and the Lord has beautifully weaved the threads of our lives such that she has now become our babysitter. She looks after Zac, Josiah, and our 5-year-old Grace when we occasionally go out for the evening. She’s matured into a delightful young lady, is full of faith, has finished school with good grades and knows that God has big plans for her life.
Grace has been awarded a scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University to study journalism for four years. They cover 50% of tuition fees but not flights and accommodation/living expenses and the other 50% of tuition fees, which obviously adds up to a fair bit. If her story moves you, and you’re able to help, please get in touch with me or click on www.greatlakesoutreach.org/donate . Her life was spared for a reason, her story has already impacted many lives, and we want to see her fulfill her potential for God’s glory. She’s also totally committed to returning to broken Burundi after her studies to play her part in its healing and transformation.
Feel free to forward/retweet/pass this on, with my contact details:
so we can help Grace with the next stage of her adventure for Him.
WARNING OF GRAPHIC IMAGES - Horrific indeed, I tremble and feel sick as I put them in. They are at the bottom if you want to avoid seeing them; but it's reality, and seeing it just makes me want to pray more...
Another reason for posting this is that tomorrow is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church, so do please flag it up where you are.
The below comes straight from Open Doors, a superb organisation working with the persecuted church. My pictures though, not theirs. Do sign up directly to their updates at www.opendoorsuk.org
Hanna lives in Damascus with her husband and two young daughters. She relates what daily life is like in Damascus.
"We are getting up very early to pray and fast whenever our daughters are not at home. Every day when I walk to the school where I work I hold my breath, every minute something can happen. Many streets are closed and when you walk the streets you see the traces of the battle: little fires all over the streets.
"A few days ago when I passed one of the churches on the street I saw a man on the phone in front of it. Somehow I felt there was something wrong. I overheard him talking on the phone, he said: 'Aim close and very near to the main door of the church. I am here now, aim exactly at this place.' When I got home I told my husband: 'They are going to attack that church, I know it.' My husband thought I was wrong, but half an hour later we heard that the church was attacked by a mortar.
"Attacks on churches happen a lot now. They are also targeting Christians. Many of them are killed or kidnapped. When they kidnap someone, they ask their families for ransom or force them to convert to Islam. Women are often raped. The people who return from such events are traumatised. One man I know who came back from a kidnapping hasn't spoken a word since he came back. He is crying a lot. Nobody knows what happened to him.
"People wonder why I am still staying in this country. I ask myself the same question time after time. As a mother and a wife I want to leave, but as a Christian I want to stay. Every time my husband and I pray, God gives us a burden on our heart: stay in Syria. He has things to do for us here.
"God will bless Syria, I know this for sure. He is already blessing us. Every time we go to church, the church is full. People come together in times of despair. But we also see new faces every time. Many of the new faces are people with a Muslim background, refugees. They say, 'We've lost everything - our house, our job, family members - but we gained the most important thing: the knowledge that Jesus is our saviour.' Recently 30 people in our church were baptised. Three or four of them were from a Muslim background. The situation is hard, but we are living by faith."
This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. Download resources at http://www.opendoorsuk.org/pray/idop/ that will help you and your church pray for persecuted Christians.
That God would protect Hanna and her family, and other families like them, as they seek to be shining lights for Jesus at this difficult time
- For the church in Syria; that its people, its faith, its buildings and its existence would be sustained and protected
- Praise God for the many churches around the UK and Ireland who will be using the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church to pray for those who share our faith but not our freedom.
With many thanks for your prayers.
I love living and working in Burundi, but sometimes I hate it for what it throws up.
Today, within minutes of getting to the office, I had an old friend show up. He was emaciated, haggard, shabbily dressed, and obviously not in great shape. I knew it wouldn’t be a mere social call – rather he’d be the first of a number of daily knocks on the door from people needing money.
I’d helped him with some eye surgery a few years back, so I asked him to take off his shades, and was shocked to see a bare socket! I asked him how he was doing, and it wasn’t long before he began wailing. This is very rare in Burundi because as the proverb goes: “A Burundian man’s tears fall only inwards in his stomach.” Tears from a man are a rare thing here, but he couldn’t hold back. He was desperate.
So, I thought I’d share some of his story with you, to see what you think of it:
His name’s now Jean-Pierre (JP), but it used to be Mustafa. Born into Islam, he converted aged 33 through a friend of mine called Seth. We supported Seth until he was subsequently murdered in front of his wife and kids as an apostate of Islam. JP now has 9 children by two wives (thankfully with no plans for more!). The second wife left him when he converted, which devastated him, but solved the tricky dilemma he was in because of his having two wives being incompatible with his new faith. He suffered the usual estrangement from all his community, but held firm. He is now one of our sponsored evangelists. He gets $100/month and has to provide for all his family’s needs from that small sum.
He’s been much used by God over the years. One story he told me was of recently being warned not to approach a certain witchdoctor’s house upcountry, but he felt the Lord telling him to go and confront the man. So he took another lady and knocked on the door. He pretended she was his wife and they were coming to see him because she was barren – could he help her get pregnant? Basically he wanted to see if the witchdoctor was had any real powers, if the latter knew JP was lying or not. The witchdoctor didn’t ‘discern’ the lie and once exposed as a charlatan, JP let him and his wife to the Lord, and they burned all his charms publicly – always a powerful testimony.
Anyways, his reason for coming was that he had already taken on financial debts to deal with the cancer in his eye, and was now completely stuffed, whilst still needing a little further treatment. He needed another $500. Aaargh! What do I do with that? I can cover it in a way, but as I said, I get loads of such requests, and I can’t help everybody. Yet this guy has given up so much to follow His call. He wept. He seemed like a little child, totally overcome. So I said I’d share it with you, and hopefully someone will want to help. If you do, please get back to me. And please pray for JP, for his healing, for his family, and for his protection as plenty of people would like to kill him because he’s left Islam and is sharing his faith in Christ. Thanks!