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Persecution Update, December 2018 - SUDAN

The Muslim nation of Sudan is a dangerous country for Christians. Ruled by radical Islamic Sharia, Sudan decrees the death penalty for those who abandon Islam. The Sudanese government has systematically bulldozed churches, arrested Christians, and raided Christian bookstores. A recent case involves a Sudanese church leader, Tajadin Idris Yousef, and nine other believers who were arrested during a house church meeting in October. They were charged with apostasy and taken to jail, where they were beaten and pressured to renounce their faith in Christ. Yousef stood courageously for Christ while the other nine men recanted their faith and were released after paying a fine. Please pray for strength for Yousef as he faces a trial and a very possible death sentence.          

“Just as Day Was Breaking” - by Tim Keesee

 Dawn on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee

Dawn on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. . . . That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:4, 7)

Last year Frontline Missions released the tenth episode in the Dispatches from the Front film series. It was an important milestone for us. The personal blessings flowing from a decade of reporting on the Gospel’s advance are too numerous to list. Add to those the notes and conversations I’ve had over the years with people about the impact of the stories on their lives, families, and plans, and the flow turns into a cascade! But it’s been a special blessing to meet men and women now serving in China, India, and the Middle East who have said the Dispatches films were decisive in God calling them to move to the other side of the world in order to reach an unreached people group with the Gospel.

Recently I received an email from my friend Gloria. She’s a pastor’s wife and a courageous sister serving Christ in the Middle East. The subject line of Gloria’s note was “Words just spoken in our house.” She overheard her 12-year-old daughter tell her younger sister and brothers, “Guys! Let’s have a Dispatches marathon so we can get pumped up for school starting soon!” In another context, Gloria wrote this about the impact of Dispatches on her family:

Watching Dispatches DVDs is kind of like watching someone else work out; you become inspired to get in the game with them. God's story unfolds in every episode, and you get to watch new generations of Christ-followers flex their faith muscles and pass on the Gospel. Kids (and parents) who have a big picture of who God is and the work he is doing in the world will grow big hearts for the nations and dream big dreams for their lives. It's no exaggeration to say that watching and discussing these films together has been invaluable to my family.

All of this is shared with praise to God alone, as He has taken simple tools (a pen, a camera, and willing hands) to magnify His saving work in the world. His people are simply responding in amazement to His Story.

Since the first film was released ten years ago, I have described each episode as opening another window to Christ’s kingdom. So far we have “flung open” ten windows, but there are so many more windows to open! We have now started a new Dispatches from the Front film series that will be rooted in the book of Acts. Every book in the Bible is a jewel in the crown of God’s revelation, but some of these books hold keys to unlocking other books of the Bible. Acts is such a book. Imagine having the Gospel accounts and then the epistles without the book of Acts. That would leave us with so many unanswered questions. How are there churches in Rome or Corinth or Philippi? Who is Timothy? For that matter, who is Paul?

Luke “the beloved physician” provided a great gift to us by writing the story of the Church’s beginnings, the persecution it experienced, and the Gospel advance that occurred across the Mediterranean world. His account of Paul’s missionary adventures reads like a brilliant travelogue, which is understandable since Luke was often with the intrepid apostle. Whether setting foot in unreached Macedonia or floating on a plank as their ship crashed off of Malta, Luke was there. I imagine the pages of his journal were soiled with the sweat and dust of the road and, at times, soaked in salt water. This is why I often refer to Acts as “Luke’s Dispatches.” And that is what I am calling the next Dispatches film series.

The plan is to have six Acts-based episodes with each story set in a major city or region in the book of Acts—places like Jerusalem, Athens, or Macedonia. Each episode will open in its biblical context from Luke’s dispatches in the 1st century, and then we’ll fast-forward to the 21st century to tell stories of Gospel advance in that very city or region today. I want to underscore that what Jesus began, He continues, and He will complete! This is because He is alive, and His Kingdom spans not just continents but centuries, too. His Gospel that was powerful in Paul and Luke’s day is still at work in our day as well.

This resurrection reality is why I wanted to begin the entire story on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the risen Christ appeared to His disciples “just as day was breaking.” His resurrection signaled a new day for all of His disciples—both then and now. So in August and September, Pete Hansen (who has been the man behind the camera since the beginning) and I were there. It was an unforgettable morning, and I can’t wait to share it with you. The masthead picture includes just a glimpse of what’s to come.

This year the Christmas project is the next Dispatches series. Each episode will cost approximately $18,000. That’s a total of $108,000 for the six episodes. Amazingly, gifts totaling just over $30,000 have already come in. We are so grateful for that and would appreciate your consideration to help, too. We plan to film the series throughout the coming year with the release of the first two episodes in the summer of 2019.

May Christ who came and died and rose and saves be magnified more and more through these stories of His grace. Please pray for Pete and me in this venture—for all the miles, borders, and unanswered questions ahead. Pray that we will have eyes to see Christ’s work and words to share it—all for His glory.

 On the trail of Gospel pioneers in the 1st century and the 21st century

On the trail of Gospel pioneers in the 1st century and the 21st century

Persecution Update - Asia Bibi

 Photo Credit: World Watch Monitor

Photo Credit: World Watch Monitor

In answer to the prayers of many Christians globally, on October 31st Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted 51-year-old Asia Bibi of the alleged charge of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad and commuted the subsequent death penalty to which she was sentenced in 2010. Asia has spent a total of nine years in solitary confinement. However, she still awaits release from prison because of the thousands protesting in the streets. Even her lawyer has gone into hiding due to threats on his life. Please pray for the protection of Asia and her family and that they would be able to leave Pakistan safely for asylum in another country.  Read our previous update here.

Persecution Update, November 2018 - AFGHANISTAN

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Afghanistan is second to North Korea as most hostile to Christians. There is not a single Christian church building in the country, although there are over 48,000 mosques. Afghans who convert to Christ are considered traitors to their country and can be sent to a psychiatric hospital or face a death sentence for apostasy. In addition, relatives who forsake Islam are often murdered by Muslim family members in “honor killings.” As a result, many Christians must flee the country in order to escape persecution. Please pray for the Gospel’s advance within the spiritual darkness of Afghanistan and for special grace for believers who follow Christ at great cost.

Persecution Update - Pastor Andrew Brunson

 Photo Courtesy of World Witness

Photo Courtesy of World Witness

We praise the Lord that a Turkish court freed American pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday, October 12, 2018, after nearly two years in jail and more recently under house arrest. Thank you for your prayers for Pastor Andrew over the past two years. Please continue to pray for him and his family. Read our previous update here.

Persecution Update, August 2018 - NIGERIA

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Nigeria is one of the most dangerous nations for Christians. Muslims comprise about half of the nation’s population, and several radical Islamic terrorist groups have vowed to eradicate Christianity from Nigeria through “religious cleansing.” In 2014, Boko Haram killed more people in Nigeria than ISIS did in the Middle East. Thus far in 2018, more than 1,400 Christians have been murdered by Muslim terrorists, including 233 Christians that were brutally killed one weekend in June. Christian girls continue to be abducted by Boko Haram and made child brides with the attempt to force them to convert to Islam. Please pray for special grace for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Nigeria and that they will shine as lights for Christ as they follow the way of the Cross.  

Persecution Update - Pastor Andrew Brunson

On July 25, Andrew Brunson, an American citizen who has lived and ministered in Turkey for over 20 years, was released from prison and moved to house arrest, where he awaits his October 12 hearing. This is a promising step, but he still remains accused of the false charges of endangering Turkey’s national security, and he faces a potential 35-year prison sentence. Please continue to pray for God to be glorified through this situation.

Read our previous update here.

 Photo Courtesy of World Witness   

Photo Courtesy of World Witness

 

Persecution Update - Pastor Andrew Brunson

At Pastor Andrew Brunson’s trial in Turkey July 18, the judge denied him release and returned him to prison. Andrew is being held on the false charges of endangering national security. His next hearing is scheduled for October 12, which will be two years from the time he was initially arrested.

Brunson had served faithfully as a pastor for 23 years in Turkey prior to his arrest in 2016, and he has become a political pawn that the Turkish government is using for their purposes. In spite of the major disappointment of Wednesday’s outcome, Brunson is looking at the bigger picture:

"There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus's name."

Please continue to pray for special grace for Pastor Brunson, as well as for his wife, Norine.

Read our previous update here.

 Photo Courtesy of World Witness

Photo Courtesy of World Witness

Persecution Update, July 2018 - NEPAL

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Although Nepal is a majority Hindu nation, the government declares the country to be a secular state. Yet in late 2017, the government passed an anti-conversion law which criminalizes conversions from one religion to another. Like India and Pakistan, Nepal is using the anti-conversion law to jail Christians, who make up 2% of the population. Even having a Bible can be used as evidence of attempting to convert Hindus.

In 2016 four Christians were imprisoned and charged with “witchcraft” when their prayers for a severely mentally ill woman resulted in God’s healing. This past May, five churches were bombed and burned. Please pray for God to give grace to believers in Nepal as they increasingly suffer for the Gospel’s sake.

Persecution Update, June 2018 - TAJIKISTAN

 Photo Courtesy of World Watch Monitor

Photo Courtesy of World Watch Monitor

The Muslim nation of Tajikistan has recently amended its religion law to assert total control over all religious matters. Churches must fill out detailed questionnaires about their activities and also include a list of the foreign organizations from which they receive funding. Cameras are to be installed in churches, so the government can monitor the people and the preaching.

In July of 2017 Bakhrom Khomatov, a 42-year-old Protestant pastor, was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly “singing extremist songs in church” and inciting “religious hatred.” The secret police also designated his Christian books as “extremist material” and disbanded the church. His wife, Gulnora, has suffered health issues since her husband’s arrest. Please pray for God’s special grace for Pastor Khomatov and Gulnora so that they will shine as lights for Christ in the darkness.