After 70 years in the Soviet educational system—in which people were taught there is no God—there is a spiritual void in Central Asia. As a result, people are asking, “Who is God? And if He exists, how is He worshipped?”
After the Soviet era, many Central Asian countries saw a quick rise in the growth of the Church. But since then the growth has slowed and sometimes reversed due to emigration. Besides that, there are obstacles to overcome. People often associate Christianity with the West, fearing imposed foreign religions. They also have the prevalent example of Russian Orthodoxy—a religion for Russians—in their midst, rather than a robust gospel that crosses borders into their own language and culture. And in the meantime, the resurgence of Islam and widespread ancestor worship and occultism continue to pervade the culture.
“The ground is very hard in Central Asia—it’s often overlooked,” explains a Pioneer. “We want to see people continue to pray and give and come to Central Asia."
Take a look at this photo essay (or our first photo essay in this project) shot in the Middle Ground of Central Asia. Consider whether you are willing to go to one of the many teams that are recruiting new members or give to a project that is directly affecting the lives of Central Asians.
It was her time. The baby was coming. She entered the 3-room medical clinic, sheltered only by the mud walls and the thatched roof. Through a small window provided light, the missing panes of glass left her exposed in the frigid breeze.
In a nearby schoolhouse, students were learning to read while the same icy wind blew in through their small window. Each of them wore jackets, boots, hats, gloves and scarves to stave off the shivers that attack at an elevation of 9000 feet.
In this area of Central Asia, we experience winter temperatures eight months of the year. But the people and their communities are poor, leaving women to deliver their babies, children to learn and doctors and teachers to work in the extreme cold.
That’s why God moved us to start a ministry of compassion—manufacturing and installing heating stoves—in mountain villages. People struggle in the cold. A small heating stove can help doctors and nurses do their jobs in a mountain clinic. It can give their patients comfort. A classroom with heat helps rural teachers capture the attention of their students. Providing heat for their bodies is an avenue for providing gospel warmth for their souls. That’s what a stove can do.
After we installed one of our stoves, a man invited us to his home to share a meal. During that time together, we talked to him and his family about Jesus and the amazing gift He offers all mankind. Before leaving, we asked if we could pray for them. This man opened up about the addiction and pain in his life. And so we prayed. A month later he invited us back to his home to share that he had been sober for several weeks. He invited us back to share more words of life.
In another village we met a Soviet era doctor facing a health crisis. He had a cyst on his brain and was scheduled for a surgery to remove it. He told us there was little chance he would survive the procedure. He allowed us to pray for him. Only a few weeks later we got word that he had survived and was listening to the audio Bible we gave him as he recovered in a hospital bed.
Would you pray for us as God provides these opportunities while we work? And would you pray about contributing to the cost of making and installing these stoves throughout this part of Central Asia? Learn more here.
Two thousand years ago, Central Asia was the world's hub of activity and modernity. People passed through Central Asia with their goods, stories, philosophies, religions and diseases on the network of trade routes called the Silk Road. And it has known its share of power struggles and conflict with Genghis Khan of the Mongols, Peter the Great and the Russians, and even more recently the Soviet Union. Now in this modern age, Central Asia is a still a crossroads between ancient and modern, East and West, Europe and Asia, Christendom and the world of Islam.
“Crossroads are often places that are trodden down because people are in a hurry to get through to another place,” explains one Pioneer. “And even though the ground is very hard in Central Asia, it’s often overlooked.”
That overlooking and general lack of knowledge about this region, cause one Pioneer to call it the “black hole of missions.” Take a moment to see the people and sites of this region by viewing the slideshow on the right.
Central Asia is at the heart of the Asian continent, stretching from China in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west and from Russia in the north to Afghanistan in the south. It is an area of the world that is unfamiliar to many, both inside and outside of the Church.
We decided to send Rob–an Orlando native, musician and friend of Pioneers–to see how God is moving in this ethnically and culturally diverse region of the world. Follow along as he hears the stories of the people that the Father is drawing to Himself.
See parts II, III and IV. Or visit MiddleGround to see more stories and photos about what God is doing in this region.
Brahim* arrived at our church visibly exhausted from trying to find help for his family. He saw “Jesus is the Light” written in Arabic on the wall of the church and said to himself, I have been searching for this light!
A local believer accompanied him to the underground, windowless apartment Brahim and his family shared with his brother’s family. Brahim’s brother Hassan*, a man paralyzed from the waist down due to injuries he received while imprisoned in Syria, lay there when they arrived. Their living conditions seemed dire. So a group of Arab Christians and Pioneers took action. They collected food, mattresses, blankets, a heater and a gas bottle for cooking. They also began to share the Good News about Jesus.
A few weeks later, Brahim came to church, asking them to pray for Hassan’s healing. The local pastor led our congregation in prayer. Immediately, Brahim’s phone rang. It was Hassan calling. “I feel an incredible fire in my legs!” he yelled. That night, God restored partial feeling and movement. Eventually, he started using crutches. That healing opened Hassan’s heart to the gospel, and we started hosting regular Bible-study for several families in their home. As a result, Hassan put his faith in Christ.
"I tell everyone who walks through my door what Jesus did for me!"
Though his wife remained closed to the gospel, we continued praying for the family and following up with Hassan. But one day we lost all contact with him.
Several months later I received a call from Hassan. He said, "I'm in Canada!" They received an offer to immigrate quickly and left before telling their friends. But it has been difficult because they don’t speak English.
“Over the last four years,” Hassan explained, “it has been the churches who have helped us.” He noticed that there are four churches in his neighborhood. “Do you know if any of these churches might be able to help?"
As it turns out, there happens to be an Arabic-speaking church nearby, and we have friends living there who visit them and help with practical needs. The whole family attends the worship service in Arabic now. They are filled with joy and gratitude for the way God cares for them through His people on two different continents. It is changing their lives.
We hear a consistent testimony from Syrian Muslims, "It was the church that helped us in our time of greatest need." May they continue to find restoration and salvation in the Middle East, Europe and North America as they experience the love and compassion of Christ’s church.
Find out how you can be involved in helping refugees by participating in our #GivingHope campaign, a means to provide practical help with food packages, blankets and trauma counseling.
* These names have been changed.
Putra* awoke in the hospital to a note tucked in his Bible, the last communication he would have with his parents…
We would rather raise dogs and pigs than call you our son.
Putra’s parents enrolled him in an Islamic school at a young age and put him through the Islamic equivalent of a seminary because they were conservative Muslims. Putra became everything his parents wanted him to be—fasting, praying, making pilgrimage to Mecca.
But during his time in university, strange things began to happen to Putra. He applied for a driver’s license, only to receive his card and find his occupation listed as “Protestant Minister”—a mistake that infuriated his father. Then Putra began to hear voices in his head while performing his prayers. They would repeat the numbers 14 and 6. He used them to play the lottery, winning $2,000. But then the numbers were accompanied with an indecipherable phrase, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And finally, he began to bleed from every orifice in his body, especially his ears, But specialists couldn’t find anything wrong with him.
One day, with uncharacteristic curiosity, he walked into a church service to listen. That morning, the pastor preached on John 14:6, the number and verse he was unable to get out of his head. When the service ended, Putra insisted that he needed to be baptized immediately.
Only a week later he survived a terrible car accident. Among his personal effects was a new Bible. When his parents found it while he lay unconscious in the hospital bed, they wrote the note, disowning him and comparing him to dogs and pigs—animals of shame and dishonor in Muslim culture. With his grief, he also began to worry about how he would pay for the hospital bill, only to find out later that his debt had been paid in full.
He did go home after being discharged, but found his parents had burned everything he owned. He would have to start again, but with his good Father on his side. He decided to move to an island with a larger Christian population. He went to book passage on a ship and realized he couldn’t afford the ticket. Noticing the ticket agent had a Christian name, Putra showed him his driver’s license.
“I am a servant of God. Is there anything you can do for me?" he asked.
The ticket agent smiled and handed him a ticket for a VIP room. But It came with a glitch. The ticketing agent announced to the other passengers that Putra would be delivering a sermon during their voyage. Putra had to confess and share his predicament. One compassionate woman took him under her wing and provided a place for him to stay on the island until he was able to get on his feet.
In much the same way, after a few years of growing in his life with Christ, God provided a way for Putra to go to seminary for training. Now he is a friend and colleague to Pioneers in Southeast Asia. Though finding Christian community was a relief, he realizes he is meant to launch back into the community he came from to give a gospel lifeline to other Muslims. Though he wants to share Jesus, he's overwhelmed and probably a little scared.
The long-term Pioneers team is trying to figure out what it means to train, encourage and assist a team of local Christians who were formerly Muslim—including Putra—as they begin to plant churches. They are praying to start four new fellowships of local believers in the next few months. Will you join them in this prayer?
Would you invest a few minutes to pray for Muslims know Jesus? Consider joining us this Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) to pray for Muslims to encounter Jesus. Simply sign up to receive daily prayer e-mails. It will take you a minute to read and another to pray.
* This name has been changed.
Towards the end of World War II, U.S. forces dropped two atom bombs. One fell on Hiroshima, Japan. This summer is the 71st anniversary of that day, and last month President Barack Obama became the first President of the U.S. to visit the city. The damage was extensive, and the death toll was high, but the façade of the city does not give evidence to the mark left on the psyche of its people.
A Pioneers team of Caucasians and Asians work there in the city. Though Hiroshima is known as the “city of peace,” and the people consider themselves ambassadors of world peace, this Pioneers team is trying to introduce people to an everlasting source of peace, one donut at a time.
A year ago we came to the village because of our friend Anna, a new believer from the semi-nomadic people group we work with. Her father was a “big man” in the area, with nine wives and most of the cattle in the area. He asked our team to come because they wanted “prayers” in their village. We recognized that he was a person of peace. In his enthusiasm, Anna’s father mobilized 300 people to attend our first meeting. They greeted us with singing and dancing and ushered us to a spot under a big tree.
We started by setting the stage for all the stories that would be told in the coming months. But their response was troubling. The people were not interested in the things of God, but rather in the things of foreigners. I had to tell them that we were only offering God’s stories.
The next week, no one was waiting for us. We entered to greet people and invite them to come hear the stories. A few came, and it was with these few that we began our year-long journey through the Bible. Each week was a struggle. While the other villages seemed open to the things of the Lord, they remained hard-hearted.
Finally, we reached the climax of the stories of Christ. It was time to give the gospel presentation. The day of our presentation was hot, well over a hundred degrees. Soon after we began to share, clouds that had been gathering above us released a downpour. Everyone–men, women and children–ran to the small schoolroom with half walls and a metal roof. God had gathered 130 people in a place where our average attendance had totaled five adults and twenty children over the last year. Now the only problem now was that no one could hear due to the pounding rain on the metal roof.
We decided to sing and play the drum. But the longer the rain continued, the more troubled my soul became. We were in the midst of a spiritual battle. After forty minutes of singing and praying, the Holy Spirit nudged my heart to pray boldly, allowing the people to see and experience the power of the living God who answers prayer. My heart pounded as I stopped the singing and prayed loudly for about five minutes.
The rain quieted to a drizzle, and my teammate stepped forward to share the message as the people listened with rapt attention. I felt the Lord tell me to take off my shoes on this holy ground. As I stood barefoot on the grimy floor. I had a glorious though momentary vision of these people worshipping the Lord after he delivers them from Satan’s captivity. One day this would be holy ground upon which the Lord builds His church.
That day, only two women gave their hearts to Jesus. I was sad, but the Lord chastened me. Heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. I glanced down at my still-bare toes and remembered Moses and how long it took to deliver Israel from slavery. I looked back at these two women and rejoiced as the downpour resumed. The Lord gave us the time we needed. And like the flood that came that day, God will flood this land with truth—a land that has been soaked with the blood of animal sacrifices, of traditional belief systems and of fear and power. It starts with these two women.
The following week we returned to the village. One of the women shared her testimony and spoke of God’s goodness to her. It’s only the beginning. Please pray that the hardness of heart we have encountered would soften by the power of the Holy Spirit so that the seeds being planted will grow into a harvest.
If you're interested in working with Pioneers in Sub-Saharan Africa, e-mail us at email@example.com.
I didn’t know if I could survive the trauma and stress.
It was 2010, and I was living in North Africa. One man in Tunisia burned himself alive to protest the unemployment rate. From there, unrest spread like wildfire in in the Arab world. Young and old took to the streets in protest of injustice, and violence often accompanied their efforts.
I was working in the region at that time, and had been for many years. My relatively safe and happy existence there turned scary. Rage and unrest came in waves of protest and riot. The American embassy kept us updated about safety protocols. The volatile environment and surveillance kept us from freely sharing the gospel and gathering for worship. The burden grew as the days became weeks and then months. Before I knew it, I had lived under the constant stress for more than a year. It affected my work and relationships with local people—nearly putting an end to it all. The people giving me wise counsel told me it was time to take a long rest outside region. Soon after, I arrived in the arms of a family and an organization that wanted to help me recover and get counseling. I was so fortunate.
But Syrian Refugees have not been so fortunate. They leave home, country, family, financial stability and even their ability to work and communicate. Who is there to welcome them when they arrive? Who can listen and give them counsel? Who is there to tell them the truth about the Jesus who loves them?
That’s why I’m so excited about Pioneers’ initiative to raise funds to provide trauma counseling for Syrian refugees—like the counseling I went through several years ago.
One Pioneer working in a refugee camp writes, “This week we visited a building full of Syrians all from the same extended family. The needs were endless. One woman had just lost a baby in the 8th month. The other women were all telling her to not cry and to get over it. I was able to pray with her and to talk with all of the women about the importance of grieving all of our losses—tears are not a sign of weakness. One man without legs and heard story after story of the constant trauma the rest of their family was enduring in Syria and how it affects them day to day as they listen [by phone]. An elderly granny was caring for her two grandchildren. The father had been killed in a bombing, the mother's had been forced to remarry and leave her children. The 3-year old boy had been terribly injured in the bombing that took his father. He is in constant pain, emotionally and physically. The granny was desperate for physical and emotional support. It is in these homes and situations that we are able to offer one-on-one lay counsel and support.”
Just like I did, they need people to help them process what they have experienced. Though they do not have the financial or human resources to get counseling in their own language with people who understand their culture, we can help them get it.
Click here to see the video and find out how you can be part of this effort to offer real help and hope to Syrian refugees.
Over a decade ago, when Peter and his family arrived in their Middle Eastern host country, there were only a handful of disjointed believers. Through the years, he watched the country devolve into chaos, violence, corruption and increasing persecution—and even targeting—of Christians. Even though one of his friends and co-laborers was killed for being a Christian in that volatile nation, Peter pressed on in faith, sowing seeds of the gospel in a land gripped by radical Islam.
Early in his service there, he was amazed by the prayer request of his friend—a former Muslim who was also a partner in evangelism and church planting. Rather than asking Peter to pray for safety from the bombs regularly hitting their city, he asked him to pray that the local Christians would serve and love each other. In the ten years of his service in the Arab world, Peter saw God connect that disjointed community of believers in answer to that prayer. Now they carry a vision for their country and pray to love each other as Jesus loved. And the roots of the church in this Arab country have spread, partly as a result of Peter’s faithful witness.
Since then, Peter and his family had to leave because it simply became too dangerous to stay. Critical security training and assessments provided by Pioneers allowed Peter and his family to enter a difficult place and serve for many years and then know when to leave. Peter’s family needed not only security training but also something we at Pioneers call member care. It involves debriefing, counseling and coaching to help Pioneers families process difficult and stressful incidents and transitions that result from cross-cultural ministry.
Peter and his family, and others like them, aren’t crazy to follow God’s lead into countries that are hostile to the gospel message. They know there are serious hazards to consider. But they also have the confidence of being aware of and prepared for dangerous situations they may encounter. And there is comfort in the fact that they have member care professionals who can help them walk through the challenges and hardships they face.
This April and May, we need your help and support to continue providing security training and member care for Pioneers on the field. It’s part of our Love Moves campaign for 2016. Please visit www.Pioneers.org/LoveMoves to find out more about the need and how security training and member care help Pioneers missionaries serve safely in over 50 hostile countries.
The Hindu god, Shiva, is regarded as the guardian deity of mountainous Nepal, home to eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest. More than 99% of the Nepalese do not follow the One who spoke their peaks into existence.
She felt dizzy and weak, having been unable to keep food down for over a week. Would Donnie* and Danielle fire her because she was too sick to return to her work as a housekeeper in their home? Nurul worried that she was dying.
Out of the blue, Nurul received a phone call from a Christian woman who followed Jesus after He brought her out of a coma. She told Nurul that she would pray for Jesus to heal her and give her a dream of Himself.
Fearing for her family’s livelihood and her own life, Nurul lay on her bed and began to pray, “Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah), if you are really King of the world, would You heal me like You healed my friend? I am so sick, and I can't take care of my family. Come heal me.”
Then she slept.
A man in white shook her from her sleep, saying, “Nurul, get up now. Get up and eat. You are well.”
“What should I eat?” she asked him.
“Eat whatever you want,” he continued. “You are well. Eat now.”
She asked her son who had been napping beside her if he had seen the man, but he had no idea what she was talking about.
Her stomach began to growl with hunger "like a pregnant woman." She ran to the street to buy food.
When her husband, Eko, came home, he said, "You look so beautiful! What happened?" She told him about her dream. He fell to his knees and wept, thanking Isa al-Masih for restoring her health.
After she told Donnie and Danielle her story, Donnie asked her, "Now what?"
"We believe.” She hesitated. “Actually, my husband has been reading about Isa al-Masih for the last month.”
Donnie and Danielle were surprised but delighted to hear her explanation. Eko had been helping them on occasion as a handyman in their home. One day a few months ago while working in their home office, he found several copies of Luke in his own language. While no one was looking, he stole a copy to read for himself. God’s Word and Jesus’s appearance to Nurul brought them to faith in Jesus.
Donnie and Danielle are Pioneers who work in Southeast Asia as church planters, seeking to share the gospel and build new gatherings of seekers and Christians. Please pray for Donnie and Danielle as they help this couple grow in their new faith. Ask God to help Eko and Nurul have the courage to share their story and faith in Jesus with other family members and neighbors.
Are you interested in crossing cultures to tell people who have never heard about Jesus? Consider a conversation with one of our mission mentors. They are happy to hear your story and walk with you as God leads. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The names in this story have been changed.
Once there was a woman who lived her whole life under one religion. To her it seemed more of a gradual process than a choosing. But one day she began to have headaches and hear the dark voice of a spirit. Sometimes it made her do and say things she didn’t want to do and made it hard for her to love people she wanted to care about.
The woman had a husband and some children. But one of her sons was sensitive to the dark spirit, refusing to let his mother kiss him or even come near him for 20 years. One day, this woman, sad and lonely, heard a story from her niece about God. It was unlike any story she had ever heard—a God who gives deep, fulfilling rest to those who follow Him. She hungered for this God and stories about Him.
So, her niece invited her to visit the city to hear more. She went, bringing some people from her family to hear the story, too. That visit was so good that she went again and again throughout the summer. During that time, the brothers and sisters who follow this God in that place prayed continually for that dark spirit to leave her alone. They prayed for God to work by His power in and through her. They prayed for her to walk in freedom. God answered their prayers.
Then, one day in autumn, she heard about a God-follower in her own small town. She prayed to find him, and soon afterward, she and her family met him in the street. She walked right up to him and said, "Excuse me, sir, are you an English teacher?" "Yes," he replied. "Oh good,” she said, “but we don't really want lessons. We are like-minded and need to talk!" You see, this woman didn’t know that brothers and sisters who follow this God in a faraway land had been praying for two years so that God would send new brothers and sisters to this teacher-brother in the streets.
This woman grew close to the teacher-brother and his wife. They invited her to fellowship and worship this God with other brothers and sisters in her little town. But something happened. During those meetings, the evil spirit came back to bother her. One day as she worshipped with them, the dark spirit took control of her body. She couldn't talk or move. The brothers and sisters began to pray, "Please, Jesus! Bring your freedom to her! Show her your power! Help her to choose you!" And other brothers and sisters around in faraway lands began to pray for her, too.
When she was able to speak, these brothers and sisters reminded her of her former choice to follow the other religion. They told her about the importance of choosing the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, by making an outward sign of obedience to Him. She understood what He was asking her to do. But then, the dark spirit seized her again, preventing her from crying out, "Jesus! Help me!" Finally, after many brothers and sisters struggled in prayer for her, this woman put her faith in Christ. She stood up, grabbed her headscarf and threw it across the room, saying, "I choose you, Jesus! Once and for all!" She was so happy that she ran around, hugging everyone—brothers and sisters alike!
When this woman went home, her son said, "Mom, something is really different about you." And this same son, who wouldn’t even come near her for 20 years, kissed her. Soon after, he told her, "Mom, I am not just your son anymore. Now, I am also your brother!"
As is evidenced by this story, Jesus is in the business of setting captives free—just as He set this North African Muslim woman free from the dark spirit that tormented her for decades. And we get to participate in the work through our prayers for Pioneers workers and the people they serve around the world. If you would like to be more involved in prayer for brothers and sisters who serve on the front lines, please consider signing up for our weekly prayer e-mail, “Pioneering Prayer.”
Rachel* sat cross-legged on the mat outside her front door in the courtyard of their home rubbing petroleum jelly on her feet—part of the procedure for getting ready for an excursion outside her home.
“Make sure your feet are well oiled,” Rachel explains. “You can see the bottoms of my feet have red dye on them. This is called henna.”
Women in her region of North Africa oil their feet to keep them moisturized and take away the ashy dryness that comes with wearing sandals everyday on dusty roads in the desert. Women also believe that henna paste helps to protect the soles of their feet by making them strong.
“About a week ago,” Rachel says, “I got the henna on my feet.”
Women go to a salon or stall in the market to have henna applied. Once the paste is on it takes several hours to dry on the sole of the foot and the toenails so that it leaves a dark brown or orange stain on the skin. While waiting for her henna to dry, she watched a film on her phone and struck up a conversation with two other women in the shop.
“I was watching The Jesus Film, and she asked me if she could see,” Rachel continues. “I just said a short prayer that she would keep [watching]…I couldn’t believe it. She sat there for at least 20 minutes. She questioned me, ‘Is this Jesus or Joseph?’ I said, ‘No, this is Jesus.’ And she followed with, ‘Interesting.’ It was the part where Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet.”
The actress who plays Mary Magdalene in the film wears no head covering. In North African culture, that detail makes it apparent that Mary Magdalene is not a conservative woman.
“We really praise God for the opportunity of visiting [local women] and putting on the normal items,” she says while pointing to the Vaseline, henna, perfume and the scarf covering her head. “All those little trips outside of your gate are opportunities that the Holy Spirit might use to trigger a conversation.”
Pray for Rachel and many other Pioneers like her who spend their days in the company of men and women who may be hearing the Good News about Jesus for the first time.
Pray that this opportunity to watch The Jesus Film would bear fruit in the lives of those women in the henna shop.
If you’re interested in making inroads for the gospel message with people who are isolated from it, consider contacting one of our Mission Mentors by sending an e-mail to go@Pioneers.org. They will be happy to listen to your story and help you see where God might be leading you.
* This name has been changed.
At the end of January, all of our financial partners will receive an annual giving statement by mail, unless they signed up to receive the statements electronically. So be on the lookout for those statements!
Every partner can also view their annual giving statements online (or at the top of your latest receipt from 2015). If you haven’t created an online account with us yet, now is a great time to do so. Not only will you be able to access an electronic copy of your annual giving statement at any time, but with an online account, you can also:
· Update your contact information
· View your history of gifts to Pioneers missionaries or projects
· Manage your email preferences
· Change automated giving by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
Log onto www.Pioneers.org/MyAccount. All you need to get started is your e-mail address, a unique password that you will create, and if you are a current giver, your donor number from one of your gift receipts.
If you have problems or concerns, e-mail us at email@example.com or call us at 800.755.7284 and ask for Donor Services.
This season has been challenging for us, as you may have guessed. It has been filled with wonderfully exciting moments and some depressing ones. We have had a lot to think about this Christmas season.
We have discovered that the more time you live outside of your home culture, a bit of the old culture wears away and you find yourself becoming a new person—not exactly a North African, but maybe a new kind of American. And for the first time in my life, I find my old American Christian Christmas culture getting stripped down to the bare essentials.
This experience helps me see more clearly what it might be like to come out of a Muslim culture into the kingdom of Jesus. Losing one's customs and traditions and holidays is painful, but this gentle stripping down has taught me so much about what really matters at this time of year.
I deeply miss snow, the Christmas tree, good food with friends and family, Christmas cookies, fireplaces, holiday parties and candlelight services, but none of those were part of the first Christmas. They are good, but what IS Christmas when you take all that away? How do you celebrate a new kingdom holiday with new believers? How do you help them make their own new traditions?
As we long to be near family and friends in the U.S. while celebrating in our own fashion, we are comforted by the fact that God is going to redeem our sadness in being far from the people and traditions that make us feel at home. He is also going to redeem the "lost holidays" for our North African Christian friends who were formerly Muslims.
We take comfort in these words from Zephaniah 3:14-20 this Christmas.
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.
These are great tidings filled with joy! He is Emmanuel, God with us.
Pioneers in Europe are responding to the refugee crisis as travelers from Syria and Iraq make their way to Western Europe. These victims of war live daily in hopes of finding a new place to make a home for their families. And Pioneers on the ground are doing their best to help meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs while they are in transit.
Read the story of one miracle God did for a sick, pregnant Syrian refugee at this Budapest train station.
See a broader view of what Pioneers is doing to help refugees through the Victims of War Project.
In the 12 plus years Victoria lived in Hungary, she had never seen such desperation and chaos. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and other refugees arrived en masse at Hungarian borders, bus depots and train stations. The crowds of hungry, tired migrants set their eyes on the safety of Western Europe, and Hungary stands between them and their longed-for sanctuary.
Children roamed the sidewalks as their parents sat on cardboard and flattened mattress pads. Young men read graffiti from other travelers written on the walls. All awaited the next leg of their journey. Would it be by bus, train or perhaps another tiring day on foot while being exposed to the rain and cold?
One day at the station, Victoria and her coworkers noticed a woman sleeping at the base of a stairwell in the overcrowded train station—now operating as a makeshift migrant camp. As they started a conversation, they learned the woman was sick, pregnant and unsure of when she would be able to leave. Without blankets or a jacket, another bitterly cold Hungarian night seemed impossible to endure.
Victoria, having seen God work one miracle after another for these migrants, listened and offered to pray for her in Jesus’ name. The woman gladly accepted the prayer, grateful that someone would care enough to sit and listen to her story.
Five minutes later, Victoria got a call from a teammate. They had just received a cash donation from some friends and used it to buy sleeping bags for the refugees. They bought hundreds. Victoria was shocked. Her teammates could not have known she had prayed only minutes earlier for this exact need!
Victoria returned to the station and found the woman. Her eyes lit up as she saw the sleeping bag. Of all the people struggling through this crisis, God specifically heard her prayer and provided both healing and a sleeping bag. She shared her gratitude.
This is only one of countless stories of how God is revealing Himself and His goodness in spite of a truly terrible situation. Click here to view the photo essay of the refugees Victoria and her teammates met.
Would you like to get involved in our efforts to provide care and hope to refugees? Learn more by viewing our Victims of War Project.
Living in a foreign culture for a God-given commission comes with hidden joys and struggles that might not be part of life in a missionary’s home culture—and they might not be obvious to those supporting them with prayers and finances from home.
In a recent survey, we asked Pioneers working among unreached people groups about the struggles and joys that come with the territory.
Top 5 struggles:
“There is an unceasing grief caused by missionary friends leaving the field. We also grieve the traumas, sicknesses and struggles of friends and teammates on the field.” – a Pioneer in Southeast Asia.
“Sometimes I wonder if I have what it takes to make it happen—the big vision that God has called us to.” – a Pioneer in Europe
3. Cultural Stress
“There is a regular level of stress that persists when just living daily life because of simple things like heat, traffic, foreign languages, culture, laws, etc...” – a Pioneer in Southeast Asia
“I get weary having all of the responsibility of everyday life in another culture fall solely on my shoulders.” – a Pioneer in the Americas
“No matter how I dress, how well I speak their language, how well I can cook local food or how much I love my local friends, I will always be a foreigner—different, misunderstood, an outsider.” – a Pioneer in East Asia
Top 5 joys:
1. Raising Children
“I get to raise children outside of the USA where kids grow up so fast. Mine are probably immature compared to American children, but I am thankful that they get to be children longer.” – a Pioneer in Southeast Asia
“I experience adventure, travel abroad and the joys of seeing God work on the front lines.” – a Pioneer is Southeast Asia
“My most effective work (where I see God most) is done in the "wasted time" of conversations (time saved for margin) when my real work is interrupted by others.” – a Pioneer in Sub-Saharan Africa
“It is amazing to live in this type of community where we are cared for so deeply… My teammates care about my everyday life, my relationships, my family, and my walk with God. It is something that is hard to replicate off the field. They are truly the Lord's provision to us!” – a Pioneer in East Asia
“Our daily dependence on Him is at a level different than we knew in the U.S.” – a Pioneer in Central Asia
Consider subscribing to our weekly prayer update, Pioneering Prayer, to know how to pray for real prayer requests from Pioneers on the field.
Like many Hindus, Akuti wakes daily and invites her god to her household puja, or prayer ritual. She washes its feet, head and body with milk and water. She uses fabric, ornaments, flower garlands and perfumes to adorn the image of her god. Next she waves incense and a lamp before it. Offering foods such as rice, fruit, butter and sugar, rendering the foods blessed for consumption. And then Akuti and her family bow and prostrate themselves before the image while tendering prayers and hymns.
Like me, those not raised in the world of Hinduism find themselves perplexed by the endless labyrinth of Hindu beliefs, gods, contradictions and rituals. But as a Pioneer who works with South Asians, I’ve become a student of Hindu practice and philosophy out of necessity.
Hindus are born into one of four castes. Brahmins, the highest caste, are the well educated who become priests, teachers and politicians. And while not technically a caste, the Dalit, or untouchables, make up a considerable population. Each caste—including the untouchables—has its own duties, or dharma. If a Brahmin decides to become a street sweeper, or a Dalit attempts to open a business, they break dharma, affecting their next life in the cycle of reincarnation. This disheartening belief prevents many from living life to their God-given potential.
Hindus believe that all humans are in a cycle of reincarnation. The only way for one Hindu to escape the cycle is to reach liberation, or moksha by building karma over the course of hundreds of thousands of lives. It propels them into better next lives. But they live in a state of fear, hoping that performing their duties and appeasing the gods will strengthen their good karma. Presenting offerings and worship to a god is wise for the Hindu, especially after committing a serious sin.
The sacrifice of Christ releases Hindus who accept Him from their bondage and restores them to relationship with the Almighty God. Pray for Hindus around the world, like Akuti and her family, to hear the gospel and respond with open hearts.
Would you consider sharing your faith in Christ with Hindus? Find opportunities here.
Sometimes you have a bad day. And some days it seems like everything in your life is falling apart. That’s what happened to Dave*, a 35-year-old Pioneer. He found himself fighting for his life on a stiff hospital bed, his wife and children at his side, wondering how and why God would allow him to arrive at such a difficult place.
After serving faithfully for years among a First Nations Tribe in Canada, seeing no ministry fruit, the past few months had been excruciating. The leaders kicked him off the reservation, his teammates left his team, and he was struck with a mysterious life-threatening illness. Where did he go wrong?
Coming in and out of consciousness, he woke several times to find gifts—thoughtful, generous gifts—left by members of the reservation. What did they mean? Could they really be from the reservation?
Clarification came with the unexpected arrival of the chief. Astonishingly, while Dave was fighting for his life, this leader had a dream. In the dream, his reservation was in utter darkness. Smothered by the darkness, the chief saw a man walking toward the reservation carrying a light. As he entered, the light spread throughout the reservation, bringing warmth and wisdom. The leader approached the light bearer and recognized him as Dave. From the moment the leader woke up and shared this story, the reservation began praying for Dave's full recovery!
Since then, Dave recovered fully and received a welcome back to the reservation. In addition, many people—including the reservation's previously notorious drug dealer, now redeemed as a Person of Peace—have come to faith! Apparently Dave "accomplished" more lying on that hospital bed than at any other time! Or at least, God’s Spirit did.
If you are anything like me, you often overlook the vast needs on this side of the world. Dave is just one example of many who serve faithfully in these highly complicated and often incredibly dark places. Would you consider serving among one of North America’s First Nations tribes? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make a phone appointment with one of our Missions Mentors who can help you start the process.
One refugee explained to a reporter* that the sea is the only country without visa requirements. Many have risked dangerous travel by boat across the sea to find refuge in Europe, and some of those risks have ended in tragedy. Many others actually arrive and find that border restrictions are increasing.
And tensions continue to rise in Europe as refugees search for asylum and a fresh start. One particular hotspot of activity is the Hungarian-Serbian border, where the influx of refugees has already doubled from last year’s totals. The eyes of the world have been focused on Budapest in the last two weeks as Syrians, Afghanis and other victims of war have been detained from trains and kept from crossing the border by a new razor wire wall. Some asylum seekers protest their detention by refusing to eat and drink until they are able to cross.
Though the situation is dire, God is mobilizing Pioneers on the ground in nearby areas to join forces with local Christians and humanitarian aid organizations to bring relief and a message of hope.
One of Pioneers’ core values is innovation and flexibility—something in high demand during this crisis—allowing many of our field workers to shift gears to provide medical attention, set up warm water washing stations, distribute kits with essentials for hygiene, share coats or blankets for the increasingly cool weather, give food and water and pray for them in the name of Jesus when the refugees are willing. Many refugees just need someone to hear their story. Pioneers listen and look for opportunities to share the story of how a life in Jesus can bring hope.
Would you consider making a gift to our Pioneers on the ground in Hungary to help them provide for the needs of the refugees they meet every day? If so click here. You may also want to contribute to a wider effort to help victims of war around the world. If so, take a moment to check out our Victims of War project.
*NPR Morning Edition report on September 15, 2015.
Fewer than one percent of the people of Japan have a relationship with Jesus, but Patrick and Jessica, Pioneers appointees, are on a journey to see that one percent increase. After a trip to several Japanese cities in early 2015, Patrick, Jessica and their daughter Lilly traveled around Japan to find the city God would lead them to serve in. While there, they had the opportunity to share Christ with young people, to meet a young Japanese believer and to interact with long-term Pioneers teams already working in that part of Asia. They long to plant churches that start small and grow in number and maturity.
Watch the video to see more of their story or visit Pioneers.org/boylestojapan.
A palpable heaviness hits you when get off the plane in Thailand. A friend once told me that it’s much like the lead vest the dentist covers you with when he takes x-rays of your teeth. At first you really feel the weight of it, but after a few minutes you forget it’s there. But when the dentist takes it off, you breathe more deeply and with more ease without that extra weight. Stepping into Thailand is like putting on a vest of spiritual oppression. You see it on the street and feel it in the air.
To be Thai is to be Buddhist—for them it seems impossible to separate one from the other. However, the religion they practice is more of a “folk Buddhism”—Buddhism mixed with Hinduism, ancestor worship, spirit worship and animism. The most obvious evidence of their folk Buddhist practices is the spirit house.
A spirit house looks like a strangely ornate birdhouse or miniature temple replica. But the more you move about in Thailand, the more spirit houses you see. They are everywhere—in front of small personal businesses, outside of shopping malls, at the airport, in public parks, at apartment complexes, in the yards of every home. And there are spirit house shops that offer hundreds of models for you to buy in order to bless your own property.
Spirit houses are highly revered in Thailand, or more importantly, the spirits who live within them. Spirit houses are constructed to offer a beautiful and respectful place for the spirits to reside. Thai people believe the spirits have incredible influence on everything that happens in that place. And I believe they do. Health and happiness or sickness and trouble for the family living in that house. Wealth and success or loss and failure for that business. Each morning, property owners make offerings of food and drink to the spirits. They pray with incense while begging for favor and blessing from good spirits. Then they appease the bad spirits and ask for pardon from destruction. Sadly, this very practice binds the people to evil spirits and blinds them from the truth of Jesus Christ.
Who will go and share the Good News so they might have opportunity to become a temple of Holy Spirit, the Spirit above all others? Would you consider going? See opportunities to share God’s love with people in the Buddhist world by doing a search here.
There’s a widely accepted myth in the world of mission that needs to be busted. It is this…all missionaries are preachers.
The truth is that Pioneers use anything and everything that allows them to share the Good News. After all, Paul was a tentmaker. And if you think that was outside the box, you should see what today’s missionaries do to introduce people to Jesus:
Yes, you read that right! Combine a business background with a passion for good produce, and you get a perfect platform for mission. Coffee, fruit, chickens…you name it.
2 Performing arts
Tucked away in one corner of the world is a creative community of God's people who make Jesus known through life and worship, music and art. “I see unlimited potential,” writes one worker. “Music, film-making, poetry, dance, storytelling, drama, painting, crafts, etc. can be used to live in relationship, communicate truth, and express worship.”
3 Tourism adventures
Snorkeling, rock climbing, diving, trekking, surfing and visits to waterfalls. Running a tourism adventure company lets these workers build and develop relationships with their local employees.
People who use their hands to build and fix things are in high demand! These workers use their skills to teach sustainable and affordable building techniques and help implement culturally appropriate technologies on a community level. In doing so, they are able to share the love of God in practical ways.
5 Being a family
This might sound strange, but in many places around the world—particularly countries where families are torn apart, kids are orphaned, fathers are killed by war—a Christian family that honors God can demonstrate in word and deed what it means to follow Jesus.
Can you imagine the opportunities to bring glory to God through running an internet café, a bakery, a restaurant or a consulting company? On a business level, meaningful engagement with local customers could bring new life. Ingenious!
You only need to spend a few minutes on CommNetMedia.com before you see the way film, photos, graphic design and stories bring glory to God. What is CommNet, you ask? CommNet is a team of creatives who use their skills to capture and share stories of God at work across the globe—advocating for the unreached.
One Pioneer living overseas writes, “I get to do what I enjoy doing everyday. Sometimes I feel like a fraud, because I don’t fit the old missionary mold.”
But God created us to have talents and desires in order to reflect the different parts of His image. And His message never changes: Jesus loves the whole world. The means by which that message is delivered is up for grabs. How will you use your unique gifts and interests to share?
Had you asked me whether Europe was unreached a decade ago, I would have responded with a resounding “No!” How could a continent that boasts beautiful churches and birthed the Reformation be unreached? Why should a missions sending organization like Pioneers, one focused on reaching unreached people groups, send missionaries to a continent where 70.8% of the population are reportedly professing Christians? Shouldn’t our efforts be focused elsewhere?
I entered the missions world focusing on the 10/40 window—but now I consider Europe one of the most unreached continents in the world. And I’m not alone. Did you know…
In Europe, nationality and religion are almost synonymous. To be Croatian is to be Catholic. To be Serbian from the former Yugoslavia is to be Orthodox. To be Scandinavian is to be Lutheran. State religion is not a choice but an undisputed fact assigned at birth.
During times of war, leaders often used churches as places of mobilization and strategizing rather than preaching a gospel of peace and reconciliation. In Greece today, it is illegal to share the gospel unless attempting to convert someone to Greek Orthodoxy. In Sweden, it is culturally acceptable for a priest not to believe in God, and missionaries attest to meeting Swedish college students who have never had a spiritual conversation.
The statistics reveal that less than 2% of Europeans are evangelical believers, including less than .1% in Slovenia, .3% in Poland, .5% in Austria and 1% in France. Though many are Catholic, Lutheran or Orthodox Christians—and there may be an unspecified number of redeemed, gospel-adhering believers in these faith traditions—a closer look reveals that this faith is often a cultural tradition instead of true belief in Jesus.
Today, if you asked me, “Is Europe unreached?”, I would respond with a resounding, “YES—it is unreached!”
One missionary so clearly communicated, “Europe is as spiritually poor as it is materially rich. Remember that there are two places to die of thirst: one is the desert and the other the ocean. Europe is the spiritual ocean of the missions world.”
A team of creatives with skill and talent in video, photography and writing tell the stories of Pioneers work among the unreached in pieces like the video on the right. They call themselves CommNet and are based in Southeast Asia.
Though their work is certainly artistic and beautifully crafted, their goal is to celebrate how God is at work, to invite others into the harvest fields, to encourage them to pray and give in order to initiate and catalyze the making of disciples in places where there is no church.
This team is not content to merely share the stories of others. They are committed to playing a role in the story themselves by drawing others into it and engaging the unreached where they live in strategic and intentional relationships.
As I listened to another message on apathy and missions, I felt a stirring in my heart. I had a career at FedEx and “bled purple,” as was said of any highly dedicated employee. I was involved in church, yet something was missing. That stirring began a journey I am still traveling.
God revealed His will for me to serve Him overseas by speaking to me through these messages at our church, reading Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and many prayers and discussions with my wife, our pastor and trusted friends.
I put a fleece before the Lord, asking him to provide a way out of FedEx that would provide a financial cushion and enable me to leave in a God-honoring way. Two weeks later, I received a call from my boss, notifying me that for the first time in the history of FedEx, they were offering early buy-out packages for senior managers. Though it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, I accepted the offer and resigned.
The course was set. We applied with Pioneers, and 18 months later we moved to the Middle East.
The call for me to leave corporate America was clear, but it came before the call to a specific unreached people group. After we took a leap of faith and joined Pioneers, the Lord laid Muslims in the Middle East on our hearts. Then, when we arrived in the Middle East, we had no clear idea what we were going to do beyond language study. Throughout this process, God gave us the next step, then we waited on Him again.
We opened a small business, and I realize now that my tenure at FedEx was simply training and preparation for future ministry in the Middle East. Through this business, we employed over 30 men and women, built credibility within the community and saw spiritual fruit. God did it all!
This journey has not been easy, but it has been worth every step. Our life and this work testify to the fact that God can use anyone for His kingdom purposes.
Is God leading you to move into a career that has direct impact on an unreached people group? If so, consider talking to one of our dedicated mission mentors. Let them listen and help you discern where God is leading you. They will also pray for you in the process. E-mail them at email@example.com.
A few years ago, Carlos, who is from a remote mountain village in Mexico of an unreached people group called the Tarahumara, fractured his leg seriously. After taking Carlos to town for surgery in the hospital, a missionary doctor cared for him in his own home until he recovered.
The doctor then offered to train him as a healthcare worker in the clinic. Carlos received the training and took the job, and in the course of their time together, the doctor shared God’s truth with him. But Carlos refused to give up his sinful lifestyle and eventually drifted away.
After several years, Carlos recently returned. Another missionary doctor who is the current team leader invited Carlos to return to his work in the clinic. And again, Carlos heard chronological Bible stories from this doctor. This time Carlos is soaking them up like a sponge.
A few months ago, the doctor asked him why he is so interested in knowing about God. He said that one day while he was planting corn, certain thoughts came to mind…How can I know God? How can I get close to Him?
“So I decided to come back here,” Carlos concluded. “And you invited me to work in the clinic again.”
As they studied about Adam and Eve and God’s design for marriage, Carlos began to cry.
“I feel so bad. I didn’t know. I left three different women before marrying my current wife. I am so sorry for my bad life.”
The doctor followed up by asking Carlos if he thought his own people should know more about God’s story.
“Yes!” Carlos answered enthusiastically. “I am just waiting for you to give me some more stories so I can go tell my people.”
Pray for the doctor as he shares the chronological Bible stories (from Creation to Christ) with Carlos. Ask the Holy Spirit to continue bringing understanding and conviction to Carlos as they work through the lessons.
To view a few opportunities about reaching people groups like Carlos’ in the Americas, click here.
In matters of faith, we hold fast to what we know to be true. But occasionally, we find the need to adjust slightly our beliefs as we mature in our faith and let God develop our theology through Bible reading and sound teaching. But for Rahman*, a Middle Eastern man, the need for adjustment was more of a major shift.
One day while reading the Qur’an, Rahman found a contradiction in a passage describing Allah (the Arabic word for God) and the angels praying to Mohammad. It bothered him.
Rahman grew up in a very conservative Middle Eastern Muslim family, following the precepts of Islam and reading the Qur’an, the holy book of Muslims.
“I couldn’t accept that God and His prophet are equal in position. I knew God used different prophets to bring His message to mankind, but the prophets are not God.”
This moment gave Rahman the resolve to get to know God apart from the path and prophet of Islam.
“I longed to know God and felt sure that He would reveal Himself to me,” he remembers.
Though he made the decision, Rahman still had fears about what would happen if he didn’t recite the Muslim prayers and read the Qur’an. Would God punish him? But as he abstained from Muslim practices and searched for God, he found that his business flourished, his family received blessings and he felt overwhelming peace. All of which led him to doubt further the God of Islam.
He decided to read the Bible and went online to an Arabic-language evangelistic website of Pioneers and found the Bible there.
“While reading the Bible online, I found it was written in a totally different way than the Qur’an,” he shares. “It wasn’t dependent only on the beauty of Arabic poetry—it was about God and the way He wants to communicate with man.”
That led him on a quest to find a physical Bible of his own. But after two trips to other countries where Bibles are sold in bookstores and visiting an Arab church, he found that people were reluctant to give or sell a Bible to a Muslim out of fear of persecution.
In the meantime he used the same website and downloaded a mobile app with Bible studies. During that process, he had conversations with Adel*—one of several Arab Christians from the website who answers seekers’ questions about the Bible. It was in those interactions that Rahman confessed he was convinced the Bible was true and he felt ready to follow Jesus.
“Then,” Rahman reminisces, “I asked Adel on the phone if he would give me a Bible and take me to church.”
After learning more about the Christian faith, Rahman visited Adel’s church and received baptism and his long-awaited Bible.
After smuggling his Bible home, Rahman’s wife questioned him about it when she found it. Rahman told her that it was a Bible given to him by a new friend.
And rather that having a problem with it, she immediately asked, “Can I read it?”
Recently, a Pioneer asked him how it feels to be a Christian and he answered,
“I feel like a little child who is so happy he doesn’t know what to do!”
Praise the Lord for Rahman’s journey to faith and pray for his wife and children to know Jesus. Also pray for Pioneers’ Arab World Media outreach that introduces thousands of Arabic-speaking Muslims to Christ and the Bible.
If you are interested in knowing more about how you can help with media outreach, click here.
* Names have been changed for security purposes.
The churches have no pastors and the church leaders have no training. In a remote area of Peru many have a passion for Christ, but they need someone to teach them and show them how to lead.
A Pioneers team accepted the challenge to train the future leaders of churches in an area that is all but forgotten. Most of the people are simple farmers with a basic education. For many, working is more important than staying in school. Others only have access to elementary school education. Some can read, though others cannot. But they retain the material they hear and can answer questions about the material presented in the courses.
Juan* is an intelligent 20-year-old who loves Jesus. He is a leader in a church that has no pastor. He is one of 16 people who is attending the training for people in remote village. The training he receives will help him to be a future leader in his remote village
Didi* is the only woman in the training group, and she makes the biggest sacrifice to get there. She comes from a remote village Pioneers visited only once. She walks at least four hours to reach the road, and from there she hitches a ride on the back of a potato truck for three hours. She is smart, dedicated and excited to have the opportunity to learn about the life of Christ.
The team longs to create a training chain of students becoming teachers. Disciples training new disciples. First they will finish teaching these 16, then those 16 will train the people in their respective villages. Each will be able to pass on the core message of what they learn. This method of training provides an opportunity for everyone who wants to learn about Christ, and helps them pass it forward.
Please join this Pioneers team in prayer as they seek to train the people of Peru located in such hard-to-reach places.
* Names have been changed for security purposes.
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Many of us cannot imagine fasting 30 days in a row. But for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, it’s a yearly occurrence. And even now, they anticipate the arrival of Ramadan—the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar—to begin the month of fasting. And this year, according to the observance of the crescent moon, it will begin approximately June 18 and end July 17.
Muslims view Ramadan to be a particularly holy month, the month when it is said that their prophet, Muhammad, received his first revelations from God. They fast as a means of proving their devotion to God, praying regularly and reflecting on the tenets of Islam. Additionally, there is a oneness that comes during Ramadan. Muslims appreciate and enjoy the fact that they are joining together with the other Muslims of the world to seek God together. And observing the month of Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims who are of age, along with the other pillars of their faith (reciting the Muslim creed, prayers five times a day, giving alms to the poor and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lives, if they are able).
A typical day of fasting begins before dawn and ends at sundown, making the days of Ramadan shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. Often they wake just before the break of day to eat a meal before beginning their fast from food, water, cigarettes, sexual relations and sinful behavior. At sundown they break the fast with a date and a glass of juice or water before praying and partakinge in an evening meal. Ramadan meals often include many types of sweet cookies and cakes a traditional soup or main dish. Then, the families often go into the market to buy food or clothing or visit friends while enjoying the evening. Sometimes the evenings even last until just before the day breaks again.
On one of the odd numbered days during the last ten days of Ramadan, they celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or night of power. They believe that the first of the revelations given to Muhammad occurred on that night, though there is no consensus about when it is. Koranic tradition states that praying on that night is worth more than one thousand months of proper worship. So many Muslims will spend many of those odd numbered nights praying all night to earn those thousand months of worship merit.
At the end of these 30 days, Muslims end the month of Ramadan with a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, or feast of breaking the fast. It’s a celebration to acknowledge they successfully finished the fast, and it’s a demarcation of a more natural schedule of eating and drinking during the day. Typically, people celebrate by preparing and sharing a feast with family, friends and neighbors.
We would like to encourage you to pray for the people of the Muslim world during Ramadan. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray, but there are resources available to help you. One of those is the 30Days of Prayer for the Muslim World prayer booklet. The booklet highlights a different country each day with specific prayer requests for the Muslims of that area. This booklet is available in hard copy or download at WorldChristian.com.
See a photo essay about the North African customs during Ramadan here.
In the beginning God created the Tarahumara, and the devil created the Mestizos …
So begins a story told by the Tarahumara, a people group scattered throughout the canyons and mountains of the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico—within 150 miles of the US border.
… One day the devil came and asked God, “Who is stronger, your creation or mine? Let’s have a race.” …
A passion for long-distance running is not only reflected in Tarahumara folklore, it is perhaps what the tribe is best known for. Some are said to be able to run more than 100 miles without stopping.
… The Mestizo and the Tarahumara ran, and the Mestizo won. That’s why today the Tarahumara is poor and must run for the rest of his days.
The legendary race’s outcome sheds light on the Tarahumara’s perception of their place in Mexican history and the world. Displaced from the verdant valleys of northern Mexico by Spanish conquistadors, the Tarahumara fled into the canyons and mountains of the Sierra Madre. Like the buried treasure in Jesus’ parable, a people group of 120,000 has remained hidden from the outside world for centuries.
Reaching the tiny settlements connected by a spider web of footpaths, learning the language and finding culturally understandable inroads for the gospel have proven daunting for Christian workers.
Pioneers*, with the permission of the Mexican government, built a clinic staffed by a multicultural team composed of skilled medical professionals, pilots and literacy teachers from Mexico, Germany and the US. In a city about five hours’ drive away, another team reaches Tarahumara who have left the Sierra for work or medical care.
The Tarahumara religion combines traditional animistic beliefs with Roman Catholic traditions adopted from Spanish priests who built missions in the Sierra Madre in the 16th and 17th centuries. Witch doctors are key figures in the community and are sought for assistance in both physical and spiritual concerns.
“As Oswald Chambers said, for us, prayer is the work,” Beto, a doctor at the clinic, explains. “It’s more than just part of our strategy. It’s actually our first step in the strategy. Our hope is that, as we pray, He will use little people like us to do great things in the Tarahumara.”
One member of the team, Billy, teaches a Tarahumara language class to missionaries working in the city.
“I can count on one hand in the last 500 years the number of missionaries who have learned the Tarahumara language,” Billy notes.
But that is all changing. Billy’s hope is that, equipped with these language skills, missionaries will be more effective in sharing the gospel with the Tarahumara—ultimately leading to a church led by Tarahumara.
“We want to work ourselves out of a job,” he explains. “I would love to see, in 10 to 15 years, us not needed here anymore because there is a church of Tarahumara people reaching out to other Tarahumara people.”
The history of the Tarahumara is a sad one, another teammate, Gabi, admits, “But I think God has allowed all this oppression and all these sad stories to happen to them because He has a bigger plan, a bigger story that He is about to reveal. I want to be here to see that. I’m craving to see God’s glory displayed among this people group. He’s already working, and I see it a little more every day.”
>> Visit Pioneers.org/Tarahumara to watch a video featuring the Pioneers team in La Mesa, and find out how you can get involved in what God is doing among this people group.
*Ameritribes missionaries built the clinic. In 2009, Ameritribes merged with Pioneers.
Before our trip to go meet our teammate and bring her back to our town, my wife made a point of asking me not to invite any strangers we meet on our trip to come back and stay with us. I have a habit of doing that. She just needed a few days to herself.
As we met our teammate and prepared for the return trip, we saw two foreigners hiking up to the villages. Out of curiosity, we decided to greet them, because it’s rare for tourists to be making the trek.
They are a European couple in their 40s, and they were on a trip across the country. Someone had given them faulty advice about hiking up the mountain to the villages to see snow, staying in a guest house and buying food there. I explained that they were still 35 miles from the nearest peak. So they asked if they could return to our village with us where I could help them find food and lodging.
We had a friendly chat and answered their questions. We stopped at our favorite little restaurant along the way. I had the urge to invite them to stay with us, but it was not my place to suggest it because of my wife’s request. But it wasn’t long before she invited them for dinner. And the dinner invitation eventually turned into an invitation to sleep in our upstairs guest room.
After dinner we sat and talked. They seemed shocked that we had invited them to stay when we had only met that day. I explained that it is a way of life with us. We’ve hosted many people over our years here in South Asia.
In an effort to give something back, he asked if he could do anything for us. At first I couldn’t think of anything, but as we talked I found out that he is a business consultant for a high-end European car manufacturer. So I told him about our new little business and asked if he had any advice for us.
The next morning, he sat on the veranda and wrote up six pages of marketing information and spent an hour explaining it to me. It could not have been timelier. I have little business knowledge, and our business grew out of a local need. He laid out ideas about a website, Facebook account, a business strategy and more. Though there was nothing to indicate this couple was Christian, it did seem as if God had brought them to us.
The next day we helped them get a hotel before their return to the capital. While my wife took her to the market, he accompanied me to an appointment with a web-design company. I felt like I had my own internet consultant. Later he advised me not to make quick decisions and gave me advice about how to wisely use my limited budget. He said that it would be important to take a few months and think over any decisions.
They understood that we are church planters because we spoke frankly about our work. And so I asked him if he has any spiritual leanings. Though he went to Catholic school and was required to pray every hour while there, he has no religious convictions. I smiled and told him that I am a spiritual consultant who can give him any spiritual information he might need. He wasn’t ready for any questions, so I told him it was OK. He should take a few months and think over any important decisions.
As I dropped them at the train station, I prayed for them there. Later he said he was afraid I would ask him to pray. As we parted, she asked if she might return someday with her mother.
Now I’ve started to work on some of the things that he recommended for our business. It’s only a week later, and I’m so much further along in my business that I was last week because God arranged for this meeting.
Brent and Sadie* never thought that they would be missionaries. He felt certain that he would never be called to vocational ministry. She, on the other hand, was interested in humanitarian aid but not missions.
Sadie graduated from Auburn University in December with a degree in education, but teaching jobs are hard to come by in the middle of the school year. She looked for some short-term teaching opportunities with mission organizations, but they didn’t like that she was college aged. Then a friend told her about Pioneers.
“He said that they had people everywhere,” Sadie recalls. “And he told me they aren’t afraid of college students. And it was true! I wound up teaching English in the Balkans for five months.”
Later, Brent and Sadie married. And in May of last year, Brent heard a missionary from his own church speak about his work in the Middle East.
“God works in crazy and awesome ways,” Brent laughs. “This missionary got his master's degree in wildlife from my university under my advisor. His degree allows him to work in the Middle East and share the Good News among the unreached. As soon as I heard who he was and what he was doing, I believed that God was calling me to foreign missions.”
A day later, Caleb, Pioneers’ stewardship coordinator, called to thank Brent and Sadie for a donation they made to a campaign that helps recruit and train new Pioneers.
“Caleb asked how he could pray for me and Sadie,” Brent recalls. “At first, I couldn't think of anything, and then it dawned on me… Everything that I heard the day before and then a call from a missionary sending organization! From then on, Sadie and I were pretty sure God was calling us to go—and to go with Pioneers.”
Before their move to Central Asia to work in agriculture and education, Brent and Sadie will move to New York City in August to spend a year in training as church planters. See more about Immerse, the church planting training program here. Or if you are interested in learning more about opportunities to serve overseas in a wide variety of cultures and careers, look here.
* These names have been changed for security purposes.
I entered Edit’s house, passing by a small room where two men were watching television. I followed her to the kitchen, and we sat down. I asked her if there was someone in the house who needed prayer for healing. She nodded and pointed her chin at the room we had passed.
In an effort to clarify, I asked, “Someone in that room? Who?”
“My husband,” she said. “He has a problem with his back.”
I turned the corner and saw her husband Andras. I introduced myself, interrupting his TV show.
“I heard you have back pain,” I commented. “Can I pray for you to be healed right now?” He looked a bit surprised, but agreed. A previous back surgery allowed him to stand, though he was still in constant pain. I asked him, “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, how would you rate your pain right now?”
“It’s a 7,” he answered. “Yes, right now it’s a 7.”
I laid my hand on his lower back and began to pray, thanking our Father for His grace and the finished work of Jesus Christ. I only prayed for about a minute. I removed my hand and said, “Ok, try it out. Does it still hurt?”
He nodded his head. I think he just expected it to hurt. But as he moved, his face became more and more surprised.
“Does it still hurt?” I asked. “Where is the pain?
He began to smile, moving more and more. “It’s gone,” he said. I don’t have any pain.” Then he touched his toes.
He grabbed my hand and said, “What do you have in there?”
I laughed and told him that I was a believer in Jesus Christ and that it was not me who healed him but Jesus. And he continued to move, lifting his right leg and saying, “My leg doesn’t hurt anymore either!”
I told Andras that I would be meeting with his wife to study more about Jesus who healed him. I left him in the TV room and went back to the kitchen to answer some of her questions. A few minutes later I noticed that her son and husband had turned off the TV and stood listening in the doorway. Though it was already late and we had to leave soon after that, we will be visiting again next week.
Praise God with us! He is pouring out His love! We’ve spent many hours and nights that seemed uneventful, but we are grateful for this breakthrough. Please pray for us to have wisdom to continue ministering to them.
South Asia is a diverse and vibrant region. With more than a billion people representing over 2000 different ethnic groups, the variety is beautiful and vast. But the people of this land are in need of lasting hope.
Two Pioneers from our U.S. base recently visited several teams working to share the true hope by meeting those needs. They show love by tending to the health, employment and self-worth of this area
See these glimpses from their journey.