A LONG Walk in Africa!

The Disney movie, WALL-E, gave us a humorous (and a bit scary) view of what our future might be like. “With our all-access hoverchairs, even grandma can join the fun! There’s no need to walk!”  Sadly, walking is an activity that we Americans do less and less.  Americans walk an average of 5000 steps a day (about 2.5 miles).  On the average, Americans walk less than all the other major industrialized nations.  However, the average daily walking distance per person per day in the major industrialized nations doesn’t come anywhere close to the average per person per day walking in under-developped and developing countries.  Take for example, an average women in West Africa.  To merely get water for her family, she walks between 5 and 10 miles per day!  It’s hard for us to imagine, isn’t it?  Oh, and when this average African women walks, remember that she is carrying an average of 40 lbs of water on her head!  Doesn’t that make you stop and think?

Pastor Daniel Tieh is one of our Praise International Country Leaders in Mali.  He oversees a group of pastors whom Praise International assists.  Daniel and his wife, Maye, have 7 children. 

Daniel says that his pastors walk miles and miles every day in order to share Christ in every village.  When they lead people to Christ in these villages, they return regularly to disciple and teach them in the Word.  As those Christians grow, they immediately look for individuals in each village whom they can train for leadership.  All of this involves walking miles and miles every single day!  They do this willingly because they have been called by God to do this.  Also, it is common for everybody to walk for miles. It’s all in a days work.  But it is not easy.

I was reading recently in the gospel of John.  Thinking about what Daniel said about the Malian pastors walking for miles and miles to evangelize nearby villages, it dawned on me in a new way how much Jesus and his disciples walked.  For example, after Christ’s resurrection, which was in Jerusalem, he had arranged for his disciples to meet him at the Sea of Galilee.  No problem.  See you there!  Wait a minute!  The Sea of Galilee is about 115 miles away from Jerusalem!!!  That distance would take two long days traveling by foot!  Doesn’t that make you stop and think?  It makes me appreciate the measly 36 minutes it takes me to travel 25 miles to the Praise Office every day!

Last week Pastor Tieh told us that if the pastor had a little motorcycle, it would help them enormously.  That way, the pastor, who is whole-heartedly devoted to accomplishing the Great Commision, could use his time and energy more effectively, able to share Christ with and teach His Word to more villagers in more villages, and STILL have enough time to be with his very hard-working wife and his little children.  Hmmm, if his wife walks 6-10 miles per day to fetch water for the family, maybe the pastor would let his wife use the motorcycle from time to time as well.  :o)

If you would like to and are able to make a donation toward a motorcycle for Pastor Daniel Tieh and his pastors, go to Praise International.  An inexpensive motorcycle in Mali would cost $700 to $800.  We also have a list of Malian pastors who would be extremely blessed to receive a $35/month sponsorship from you.  Your donation of $35/month will help a national pastor feed his family.  It may also help him send his children to school. In a great deal of African countries, students have to bring a certain sum of money to school, every day or every week, in order attend school.  If they don’t have this money, these kids are sent back home.  It is very important that the pastor’s kids go to school. Your sponsorship can help the children of our pastors to go to school.  If you can sponsor a Malian pastor today, go to Praise International.  Thank you in advance.  Oh, and why don’t you take a walk today? :o)

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Reaching the Lost in Marcala Honduras

Honduras, “the Banana Republic”, famous for its coffee production,  a beautiful country with virgin beaches, national parks, thousands of square miles of undisturbed forests, hundreds of rare and beautiful species of wildlife, mountains, water falls.  On the other hand, Honduras is plagued with a history of drug cartels, terrorism, destructive hurricanes, military coups.  This article is not about the natural beauty of Honduras, nor the darkside of man’s fallen nature, but rather about what God is doing in the lives and ministry of Pastor Isaias and Olga Cantarero.  They are doing evangelism and church planting primarily in a region of Honduras called La Paz. 

The following is what the Cantarero’s have been able to do in this last year, 2010.

They started out in a village, in the mountains southeast of Marcala, called Mogola. 

There was already a small local church in this village.  The Contareros came to this church merely to be a support and encouragement.  Little did they know that a few months later the church would suddenly be without a pastor, and that they would be taking a very significant role in the leadership of this little church.  God used them to bring church members together.  They have a burden for children so they did a children’s Bible school and reached more children in Mogola.

In November, some young delinquents broke into the Mogola church, stole some small items, but burnt some Bibles, among other things.  I was touched to see the Cantarero’s heart of compassion, when they prayed for these delinquent young people that God would have mercy on them and that some might be saved and become leaders in the Mogola church. 

As if pastoring this Mogola church was not enough, the Cantareros began traveling twice a week to Santiago, an hour or so north of Mogola.  Javier Martinez and his wife are committed Christians and desired to have an evangelical church in their town.  They used the Martinez home as a meeting place.  Within a few months this house church had 28 children attending a children’s Bible class.  Isaias is a strong believer in training people for leadership.  He already has 7 young adults in training for leadership.  In fact, they are already in negociation with community authorities about acquiring a piece of land and building a church facility!

They are asking prayer for a children’s outreach that they just planned.  They are aiming to have at least 50 children in attendance, in the hopes that many of these children might come to know the Lord.

As if pastoring a church in Mogola and starting a new church in Santiago wasn’t already enough, Isaias felt called to do an outreach in San Isidro, a town further east.  He has found that reaching children in a community is one of the best ways to reach young parents.  My wife Kandee and I found this to be true in church-planting ministry in France.  So Isaias did a children’s Bible school in San Isidro.  He found three families in this community who “stand firm in their faith.”  These three families have been reaching out to their neighbors.  The believers are meeting in the home of Anthony Escobar.  Now the house church in San Isidro has about 30 regular attenders.  Isaias believes that Anthony has great potential for being a church leader.  Believe it or not, this neucleus of Christians is now negociating for a piece of land in order to build a church facility.

Isaias has also been preaching on a local Christian radio broadcast.  It costs for him to have this ministry, but God has faithfully provided.  For the last 6 months, Isaias has been preaching on the radio, which reaches people in many villages deep in the mountains.  He has heard reports of many listeners being blessed through this radio ministry!

Isaias’ wife, Olga, in addition to being a homemaker and mother of twin girls, has been working with a women’s ministry called Lenca Women’s Ministry.  She is on the board of directors.  One event they plan is a Christian women’s conference, addressing such subjects as: how to teach Sunday school, how to raise children, how to reach other women for Christ, etc. 

Isaias and Olga are expecting their third child, due this March.  They ask prayer for a safe pregnancy and birth.

We at Praise International praise the Lord for ambitious young pastors such as Isaias and Olga Cantarero, who have devoted themselves to reaching as many people as possible for the Lord.  Remember, what I explained above are the ministry activities from only this last year.  Pray for the Cantareros and other Honduran pastors.  Pray that Honduran pastors, serving the Lord in the context of all the natural beauty around them, that they may point people to the Creator, who can create a beauty in their lives if they only give their lives to Him.  Pray for Hondurans, with the violence, drug cartels and such, that they might find their solace and joy in the Lord Jesus-Christ and communicate this with their families, friends and neighbors.

Dangerous to be a Christian in Mali

The third Monday of January is Martin Luther King, Jr Day!  The United States celebrates the phenomenal accomplishments of this Baptist minister, activist and prominent leader in the African American Civil Rights movement.  Though a very controversial figure, King did make a powerful and lasting impact upon America, receiving over 50 honorary degrees and a multitude of very distinguished awards, such as the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.  

People living in the most impoverished countries most often have no “Martin Luther King” counterpart to defend their civil rights.  In fact, the civil rights of native Christians in these countries are more often than not seriously disrespected.  Those of us with Praise International desire to encourage such Christians.  The national pastors are often put into a place where they risk their lives while shepherding their flocks.

I was extremely touched last week when I read a letter from Pastor Daniel Coulibaly in Mali.  He wrote this letter as a form of thank you to Praise International and to his individual sponsors.  I translated his French letter and I’d like to give you a brief summary of his message:

Pastor Coulibaly notes that the news we hear on radio, TV, or on the Internet is principally bad news.  He lists many specific horrible events, involving killings and events that cause great dangers for innocent people, but particularly for Christians.  He says that these events point to the end times. 

I was impacted as I read three challenges that he gives all of us:

  1. Make sure that you’re saved, living in the Joy of the Lord and not in the anxiety and anguish that is invading more and more the thoughts and feeling of people from every nation.
  2. Be ready to die for the name of Christ at any time.  This challenge hit me hard.  I feel that I am ready to live for the Lord, but am I truly ready to die for Him?  Christians are very visible and vulnerable to attacks from the devil.
  3. Don’t let any threat whatsoever turn you away from your vital mission to be Christ’s witnesses.  Coulibaly made reference to Matthew 16: 16-18.  When Peter says to Jesus that he is Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus told his disciples that He will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Couilibaly  insists that if the great commission is be accomplished in Mali and to the ends of the earth, it will be done by those who choose to be faithful servants of this Messiah, Son of the Living God.

Isn’t this an Powerful challenge?  It shows me the extent of his love for the Lord, devotion in serving him whatever the cost, fearless in the face of danger and persevering and progressing in the valley of the shadow of death.  It’s quite obvious, from Pastor Coulibaly’s letter, that he is not concerned with his civil rights.  His concern is that Christian remain firm in the Lord and persevere in preaching the good news.  Martin Luther King, Jr. died for the cause of civil rights for African Americans.  Pastor Coulibaly’s challenge to us is somthing we should serious consider: are we willing to live for Christ and to die for Him, for the sake of Christ’s marching orders: go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation?

Please pray for Pastor Coulibaly in his ministry.  Pray for Christians in Mali and all of the pastors who give new meaning to the word sacrifice, preaching, training, and lead Malians.

God Is More Powerful Than Any Idole!

Pastor Christophe Dembele is one of two Praise International Country Leaders in Mali.  He told recently that his biggest praise for last year was the ministry of a medical mission team from Canada.  Mali is a Muslim country, so many of the villages where he works are predominantly Muslim.  This makes it difficult to evangelize.   He has found that the best way to make inroads is through humanitarian efforts.  This approach shows the Mali people that God cares in tangible ways about a person’s social and physical needs. 

The ministry of this medical mission team this last Fall was a perfect example.  This was the second or third time that Pastor Christophe hosted a medical mission team.  Each time, God did amazing things!  When the team set up a clinic in the village of Koniobila, not only did most of the people of Koniobila show up, but people from distant villages walked for miles on end in order to take advantage of the team’s free medical work. Hundreds came: mothers brought their little children; tons of youth came be where the action was; sick and elderly people were assisted to the place where several doctors and nurses were offering free medical care.  Even the town chief, village dignitaries and a few Imams came to be part of the excitement, and more importantly to welcome the team and show sincere gratitude for their benevolent service. 

Christophe got caught up in the emotions of this, as he stood there, observing the crowd of villagers flocking to their medical clinic.  He told us that he could not help but think about Matthew 9:35-37, where Jesus had been traveling from village to village, teaching and healing the sick. Verse 36 says, “Seeing the people, [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and discouraged like sheep without a shepherd.”

The presence of this crowd was even more surprising, since Christophe knew that it was harvest time and a great deal of people who worked out in the fields had to dropped everything to be there. At the end of their week of medical ministry in Koniobila, Christophe invited the people to a showing of the Jesus film.  The people crowded into this meeting hall! Christophe said that he normally had difficulty getting people into the place of worship.  “I’ve never had such an easy time getting people to attend a church service!”

Christophe reports that quite a bit of villagers accepted the Lord, including a local witchdoctor!  He was a very prominent witch doctor in the village. This witchdoctor wielded great power.  Everybody in the village was terrified by him. He was the one who protected the most sacred idol in the village.  Christophe audaciously confronted this witch doctor.  He told the witchdoctor that he knew the Creator of the wood and mud that formed his idols and that God was much more powerful than any of his idols! God spoke to this witchdoctor’s heart. After he turned to Christ, he and other villagers brought their idols to the center of the village and burned them!

Christophe’s medical team then visited Kifosso, the town where he had grown up.  He says that his home town had always been very hostile to the gospel.  And yet the team again saw God work in very powerful ways.  The local church that hosted their medical team was a large church.  It had had explosive growth. They need to build a bigger church meeting place!  At the time of the team’s arrival, they were in the midst of a huge conflict between the church, the spiritual leaders and the local authorities.  There was so much idol worship in this town. The place where the meeting place was to be built turned out to be an ancient place of idol worship. A heated debate ensued. The presence of the Canadian medical team in Kifosso shook things up. Spiritual strongholds were broken.  God was glorified!  Christophe again showed the Jesus film at the end of the week.  Several hundred attended, even the mayor of the town.  After the film, over 200 people accepted the Lord. The greatest miracle is that the mayor also gave his life to the Lord!  As in Koniobila, people from all over the town brought their idols to be burnt in the town square.

Let’s rejoice with Christophe for God’s mighty work in Mali this last Fall.  He asks prayer for all the new believers, that God would protect them and keep them firm in their new found faith. Pray for Pastor Christophe and also for the protection of other Malian pastors and Christians.

Christophe gave us a special prayer request yesterday.  Two of his Malian pastors recently lost their wives and it happened on the very same day!  Please pray for comfort for each of these bereaved pastors and for their children who no longer have a mother.

Copts killed in Egypt

Last Friday was Christmas for many Orthodox believers.  It is also Christmas for the Coptic believers. The Coptic Faith has a long and rich history.  It originated in Egypt, in fact, Alexandria might be considered the place of origin. They were Egyptians. Though they have a closer tie to the Orthodox church, there are also Coptic Catholic Churches and even Coptic Protestant Churches.  The Copts represent an estimated 10-20% of the Egyptian population.  The Coptic Church has expanded into other cities in the Middle East, representing the largest body of Christians in the Middle East.  There are even Coptic Churches in many other African countries. 

On New Year’s Day a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Church in Alexandra, killing 23 Copts. The killing of these Coptic believers put a damper upon their celebration of Christmas.  Though Muslim extremists are blamed for this bomb, Muslims all over Egypt have expressed their disgust with this brutal attack. Thousands have shown great sympathy and compassion for the families of the Copts killed in this attack.  As a demonstration of goodwill, thousands of Muslims even attended the Coptic Christmas celebration on January 6 and 7.  In fact, some very famous Muslim intellectuals, actors and clergy also joined the Copts.

This killing symbolically represents the sad state of affairs in the world in regards to the freedom and tolerance of religions.  I realize that this is a delicate subject. The freedom and tolerance of religion has most often been nice words but in reality non-existent. The so-called “religious wars”  give this principle of respect for each other’s religious a bad name, to say the very least.  Most often the assaults upon this principle came from religious extremists.  It is frequently more about political power than about religion.

It’s not hard to think of examples: Outrageous and unimaginable were the massacre of Christians in Roman Coliseums and the massacre of the Huguenot Christians in France.  We have all heard the horrendous stories of the Jewish Holocaust. Many of us are acquainted with religious persecution of protestant pastors and believers during the tyranny of such country leaders as Nicolae Çeauçescu. Most of us will never forget the tragic killing of the five missionaries on the shore of the Curaray River in Equator by the Auca Indians (the Waodani people). The list goes on and on and on.

The national pastors whom Praise International sponsors deal with many forms of religious discrimination.  Be it in Africa, India or the Philippines, etc. The discrimination against our Praise pastors comes no where close to the above-mentioned atrocities, but it is still very real.  Having worked often with a great number of pastors in Eastern Europe, I know that protestant churches have experienced religious oppression and persecution, mostly from national régimes, frequently by creating subtle and less subtle laws that obstruct the growth of the protestant church and punish its adherents in some ways.  I have been saddened deeply, spending time with many Romanian pastors who experienced first-hand the cruel years of Çeauçescu, listening to their stories of persecution and survival. 

Romanian Pastor Richard Wurmbrand survived years of torture and imprisonment during the Çeauçescu years.  After his release, Wurmbrand founded the Voice of Martyrs, a well-known ministry whose mission is to help pastors, serving in countries where they suffer severe religious persecution.  Open Doors is a ministry that has a similar passion.

Praise International has partnered with Romanian Pastor Ion Vasile, supporting and facilitating the ministries of several Romanian pastors. Pastor Vasile and his family are very dear friends of mine.  In spite Romanian laws meant to stifle the expansion of protestant churches, he has personally planted several churches and through discipling aspiring young Bible school students, training them, challenging and coaching them and his supervision of them, many other evangelical protestant churches have been planted in eastern Romania.

Please pray for Pastor Ion Vasile, for his family, for the many pastors whom he oversees, for the Romanian Christians in these churches and for the spiritual needs of this entire country. Pray also for pastors and Christians all over the world are being persecuted.

Two Christmases in Russia!

In one book of the Narnia series, The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch puts a spell on Narnia and made it “always winter but never Christmas” for a hundred years. It’s hard to imagine going a year without Christmas. Though Christmas may have pagan origins, for Christians all over the world, December 25 has become the most celebrated religious holiday of the year, an opportunity for Christians everywhere to announce the humble advent of the incarnate Messiah to this earth: Immanuel, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Sadly, Christmas for many people has been downgraded virtually to an annual shopping spree, licensed indulgence. Still, I am happy as a Christian to have at least one Christmas and profit from the additional opportunities we have to make Christ known.

For many years the Orthodox churches, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, used the Julian calendar, which had the celebration of Christmas on January 7. When the Julian calendar was revised, the date of Christmas fell on December 25, like the Gregorian calendar. Many Orthodox churches, primarily the Eastern and Russian churches, continued to use the old (non-revised) Julian calendar. This brought some confusion. During a recent interview, a Moldova young person said that most young Moldovans celebrate Christmas on December 25 and the older Moldovans on January 7. The Moldovans have a tradition of celebrating the New Year from December 31 until January 7, so the holiday celebration is drawn out into January. I read another article stating that many Protestant Christians in these Eastern European countries, and even Christians within the Orthodox Church, celebrate a “family” Christmas on December 25 and then a religious Christmas on January 7, which incidentally is the origin of the song “The 12 days of Christmas.” How would you like to have two Christmases in one year?

Russian Pastor Anatolii Alipichiv
with his family

Praise International supports and facilitates numerous native pastors in Eastern Europe: 27 Russian pastors, 6 Romanian pastors and 4 pastors in Moldova. In these countries where the people are devastated by corruption and poverty, pastors, who are solely devoted to the spread of the gospel, often cannot provide sufficiently for their families. Through Praise International, Christians in North America can sponsor one of these pastors for only $35 a month. This gift, quite insignificant for those of us living in the West, is a very generous provision for these pastors, allowing them to substancially feed their families, etc., and focus more time and energy upon their vital ministries for the Lord. If you would like to sponsor a pastor in Eastern Europe, there is a waiting list of pastors who need your help. Please contact me. Your gift will permit evangelical pastors to proclaim the good news: it’s not always winter; there IS a Christmas; and that Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming and His gracious provision of forgiveness and salvation to all who believe.

“Happy New Year” in Tagalog and Chinese!

The Philippines in the news: This year’s holiday celebrations in Manila got a little bit out of hand. Between December 21 and January 3, nearly 800 people were injured in accidents related to end-of-the-year festivities. With the exception of 30 injuries caused by indiscriminant firing of guns, most of the injuries were caused by careless use of fireworks. Most of these injuries were serious burns, but 48 of the injuries resulted in the necessity to amputate.

It appears that the Filipinos like New Years celebrations so much that they want to have two separate New Years celebrations each year. Senator Jose Estrada is seeking the immediate passage of a bill declaring the Chinese New Year to be an official national work holiday. The Chinese-Filipino community comprises over 22 percent of the country’s population, one of the largest ethnic Filipino groups in the country. Referring to his bill as a sign of “goodwill and amity,” Estrada points out that the Chinese-Filipino community has impacted the Philippines in innumerable and unquantifiable ways. The bill is likely to pass after the Congress resumes its session on January 17, in time for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration on February 3.

When I hear news from countries such as the Philippines, I can’t help but think about the pastors whose ministry Praise International supports and facilitates in that country. Praise assists over 50 national pastors the Philippines. Levi and Lilly Adrales are country leaders for Praise International in the Philippines. Would you pray for the Philippines? Please pray for the Filipino pastors as they invest themselves sacrificially for the work of the Lord in the Philippines. Please pray for their families as well and for the people in their communities, who often live under serious poverty circumstances.