by Sharon Mumper
Important news stories from the world of missions.
War and Peace in the Former Yugoslavia
In the tormented former republics of Yugoslavia where a suicidal civil war rages, nationalist feelings run deep. They even seep into evangelical churches, says veteran missionary Bobby Beard. Now Assemblies of God area director for the Balkan countries, Beard was a resident of Osijek before the bombardment of the city forced his relocation to Vienna.
"I’m surprised by how much we are affected by what we hear through the media," he says. In Serbia, early media reports indicated Croatia was about to invade Serbia. Army and Serbian rebel activities in Croatia were played down.
So convincing were the slanted news reports that one Serbian pastor refused at first to believe a Croatian pastor who said Osijek was being bombed, says Beard. Encouragingly, however, attitudes are changing. "As I have traveled in the last few months," says Beard, "Christians are beginning to ask about the well-being of churches in different places. They are saying, ‘We are citizens of heaven first and of countries second.’"
A January meeting of the Evangelical Church in Yugoslavia (formerly Christ Pentecostal Church) in Vienna brought together pastors from all the former Yugoslavian republics for the first time since the beginning of hostilities. At the conclusion of what Beard describes as a time of healing, conferees approved a statement calling for, among other things, members of the denomination throughout the former republics to work for peace and understanding among all Christians, churches, and peoples.
Since then, ECY pastors from throughout the former Yugoslavia have met again in Hungary, with fellowship described by leaders as good.
Postal and telephone communication between the warring republics have been cut, seriously hampering communication and cooperation among church leaders, says Branko Lovrec, president of the Baptist Union in Croatia. He has been able to have little contact with fellow Baptists in some of the other republics since hostilities began.
But, the news in the former Yugoslavia is not all dismal. The tragedy of war has galvanized the country’s evangelical church, especially in hardest-hit Croatia. Despite a miniscule membership of some 3,000, Croatia’s evangelical churches have mounted a number of multifaceted relief programs with the assistance of churches outside the country.
The Baptist Union of Croatia has formed a relief organization called "My Neighbor," says Lovrec. In addition, Duhovna Stvarnost, which before the war was primarily a Christian publishing house, now devotes 80 percent of its work to humanitarian aid, says Lovrec, who is the director of the interdenominational organization.
The Evangelical Church in Croatia has formed a relief organization, Agape, to channel food and medical supplies to hospitals and refugees. The most immediate need is food and medicine, says Damir Spoljaric, assistant director of the Evangelical Theological Faculty. At one time, as many as 500,000 Croatians were displaced within the country. Some 13 hospitals have been destroyed, and 220,000 apartments and houses have been demolished, says Spoljaric.
Croatia’s churches are offering not only physical, but spiritual aid to a hurting populace. Everyone who receives humanitarian aid also gets a piece of literature, says Lovrec. Some 35,000 copies of "Peace with God" have been distributed, and churches and organizations are asking for more.
"We’ve never had such opportunities as we do today," says Lovrec.
"The churches are overcrowded; 30 to 40 percent of those who attend are refugees."
In traditionally resistant Croatia, people are at last responding to the gospel, says Spoljaric. Theology students visiting refugee camps weekly have found people responsive to the message of the gospel. The reason for the new openness is obvious, says Spoljaric. "As always throughout history, in suffering people are more open to God."
And as always, even in the midst of war, some are finding lasting peace.
Reaching the AGe of Accountability in Brazil
In Brazil, Protestant churches are growing so fast that in 25 years more than 50 percent of the population could be evangelical. So states Caio Fabio, president of the recently formed Brazilian Evangelical Association.
"This evangelical population will be so characterized by Christian values that it will help change the social, economic, and political face of the Brazilian nation," he told representatives of the World Evangelical Fellowship.
The nation is certainly in desperate need of such help.
In a continent largely experiencing economic renewal, Brazil’s continuing economic woes distinguish, it its neighbors. Triple digit inflation last year crippled the ability of individuals and businesses to make sound financial plans-or in cases, even to survive.
The nation is slipping into poverty and social crisis, warn some analysis.
Evidence is not hard to find. As more families plunge into poverty, spewing hungry, desperate children onto the streets of major cities, petty-and sometimes not-so-petty-crime soars as mobs of children roam the streets threatening residents and tourists alike.
Disgusted with the seeming helplessness of police courts in the face of juvenile crime wave, businessmen and sometimes city governments mailers into their own hands, hiring thugs to beat and even kill the "pests." International outcry against the practice has had little effect.
John Saunders, a former missionary to Brazil with the South America Missionary Society (SAMS), that over half of Brazil’s population is under the age of 18. In countries like Brazil, children’s ministries are critical, he says. In fact, some Brazilian international missions, including SAMS, focus on street children.
Most young people, of course, have normal families. Many are becoming Christians are now entering training schools. Those who do so are able to choose from more institutions ever before. The of training schools in Brazil has increased four-fold in the last 14 years, from 89 to 321, according to a report cited by the Overseas Council.
In the same period, evangelical church membership grew from 4 million to 19 million. Evangelicals have every reason for confidence their numbers will continue to grow. As their proportions increase, however, their credibility will increasingly hinge on their ability to effectively impact a desperately needy society.
African Women on the Launching Pad
Few educated women in Africa today are Christians. But, if the vision of a new Christian organization is fulfilled, the situation tomorrow will be quite different.
"Many of the better educated women look down on Christianity as an escape for the less-educated; for people with problems they can’t handle," says Eva Sanderson, continental chairperson of the Pan-African Christian Women Alliance (PACWA).
She notes, however, that "when God directs the life of a Christian, and that person lives in obedience to him, there is strength and boldness that appears. The women of the world are looking for this," she says. "I know that when we let go and let | God really be God, he is going to begin to raise up some tremendous Christian women leaders even into high government position."
Facilitating the transformation of I women and release into the service of God is what PACWA is all about. Formed in 1989 under the auspices of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar, the energetic group has established national affiliates in more than 30 countries, PACWA’s goals include establishing networks of women for communication and sharing of resources; identifying and grappling with socioeconomic issues that affect the lives of women; facilitating the development of small-scale pilot development projects; motivating and equipping women for evangelism; and facilitating the delivery of professional legal, medical, and banking services to needy women.
In the last three years, thousands of African women have been introduced to PACWA’s programs through continentwide, regional, and national meetings. Already, there are observable changes, say leaders,
"Women are beginning to feel they have something to offer," says Sanderson. "Through the networking, they are coming to understand and appreciate what is happening in other countries. They are feeling less isolated; like they, too, may have a contribution to make."
PACWA Coordinator Judy Mbugua is encouraged to see women being appreciated and one another. "It is coming even into the churches," she says, "We are seeing progress,"
From the beginning a "Women in Development" program has a key component of PACWA. The group brings women together to learn how to develop small-scale self-help projects designed to improve their ability to care for their families, to enable to be self-sufficient, and to help their communities.
Projects started as a result include a vegetable-growing project in Malawi and a chicken-farming experiment in Kenya.
Evangelism has also been an important focus. "Women are uniquely equipped to evangelize their children, husbands and a whole network of acquaintances and relatives," says Mbugua. Potentially, she says, women may be extremely effective evangelists.
For reason, of the of PACWA is to help women discover their spiritual gifts. Many women are coming to see they have talents and to look for ways to develop them, says Sanderson. She observes the process is not, without difficulty, particularly in churches where leaders are not prepared to accept the ministry of women. "We are telling the ladies to be tolerant and prayerful," "PACWA is not another liberation movement. We are simply saying that since we have set free by the Son of God, let’s be truly free, not only in the home, but in. the church. Let’s come along-side our menfolk to do what God. has given us to do."
Despite the existence of some difficulties, both Mbugua and Sanderson are encouraged about the future. "As I look at the women, I see them coming literally from death to life, physically and spiritually," says Mbugua. "I see a bright future when the men and women of Africa work together for the glory of God."
Blooming in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka’s internecine civil war has pitted Hindu Tamils against Buddhist Sinhalese, only one religion has come out smelling like a rose-Christianity. Always a tiny minority of the population, Christians have been largely ignored by Sri Lankans, Small wonder. For decades after the country received its independence in 1948, the church kept its head down, embarrassed by its colonial past and content to maintain the quo.
All that has changed. The 1983 riots that plunged the country into a continuing cycle of violence served as the church’s wake up call, launching a new era of social responsibility and evangelism.
In the wake of three days of incredible destruction in which thousands of Tamils were killed, homes and businesses destroyed, and 150,000 made refugees, Christians were among the first on the scene, offering help under the auspices of the Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Service (LEADS), a ministry of the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka.
The witness was more than simply physical. Battle-weary Sri Lankans began to notice that Christian Tamils and Sinhalese worshiped together peacefully in churches. And churches began to notice that most of their island nation was completely untouched by the gospel.
There had been a time of seed-sowing in the ’70s, says Tissa Weerasingha, pastor of Calvary Church in Colombo. But it wasn’t until after the civil war began that rapid church planting took off as churches began to see the need for more determined evangelism and outreach into villages.
Weerasingha’s own 1,500-member church has planted 31 churches in the last five years, and churches have been established in hundreds of other villages, as well. Today, 1,000 villages a Christian church, say leaders of Sri Lanka’s Church Growth Research Center. That leaves 24,500 without a church.
Despite the overwhelming odds against them-evangelicals comprise 1 percent of the population-many Christians are eager to get on with the task.
The violence that has shaken the beliefs of warring factions has also battered Christians. But as a result, many are emerging stronger in faith and convinced of the importance of prayer. All-night prayer meetings have become common; a recent all-night prayer meeting at Calvary Church drew 900-more than ever before, says Weerasingha. A national stadium prayer meeting even brought together Protestants and Roman Catholics.
To a divided nation, the spectacle of a multiethnic group coming together to pray for healing, unity, and restoration is a potent witness difficult to ignore. It is possible that after years of waiting, the tender bud of Christianity is about to bloom in Sri Lanka.
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