Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Impact Appalachia

Matthew 25.31-46 is not in other Gospels, which I believe magnifies the power of the passage more.  When a Gospel writer includes an untold story, it’s like unpacking a new truth of Christ.  Certainly this story reveals a powerful truth.  The truth is that people will be separated based on how they served Christ in life.  He’ll say:
            I was hungry and you fed me,
            I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
            I was homeless and you gave me a room,
            I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
            I was sick and you stopped to visit,
            I was in prison and you came to me. . . .
I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me. (The Message)

This Scripture came back to me after preparing for Impact Appalachia.  The Pentecostal Church of God National Missions department works with Impact Student Ministries to deliver Christmas gifts to some of the poorest counties in the U.S.A., found along the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.Schools open their doors for a Saturday morning gathering of families.

Clothes, gifts, bicycles, and more are given out in a carnival-like setting.  The children are led in games and songs, and then led into the true Christmas Story.Lives are impacted forever.  As our leader Mike said this year, “We’re re-writing history for some of these families!”  It’s amazing to see, especially here in our own country.

I shared  this Scripture with Mateo and Cruz on Friday night, after they had worked all day preparing for the Appalachian Outreach.  I hoped to give them perspective for the Saturday outreach.  After I shared Christ’s words, I asked if they understood.  Mateo replied, “No we haven’t visited anyone in prison.”  I explained that he might visit someone in prison someday.  What is important is that when they see the faces of all of the children who need clothes and food, they see the face of Christ.

We often look at this Scripture and feel limited because of our circumstances or stage in life.  Mateo certainly felt inadequate because he had never visited anyone in prison.  However, the decision isn’t his to make.  As a protective parent, I realize that Mateo might be a little young for prison ministry.  In the same way, God understands our station in life and takes into account our abilities and our spirit.

Jesus is not telling us that we have to lead a ministry in the Church or successfully bring about world peace.  He’s just asking us to be involved, to participate.  In Matthew 10.41-42 Jesus says,

This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing.


Again, He sees our station in life and knows our limitations.  However, He’s impressed with what we do, even if it seems small to us.   There will be a reward as we simply give out of love.  We may or may not be see instant results, but we will impact souls with the love of God.  Ultimately, the reward is that we give to Christ Himself!


Matthew 25.40: Then the King will say, ‘I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pentecostals Lead The Way In Brazil

When I think of Brazil, I think about the Amazon, piranhas, and the rain forests.  I think about the fact that Brazilians speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.  I think of Sergio Mendes and all the great music that has come out of Brazil over the years.

Neymar, Brazil's Player of the Year
I think of World Cup Soccer.  Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014.  Brazil has won the World Cup more than any other nation.  Currently, there are 208 nations . . . 208 pro teams!  Brazil has won 5 times and placed 5 times as well.  The World Cup is only once every four years.  Considering the four-year schedule and all of the teams involved, it’s safe to say that Brazil’s team is the New York Yankees of soccer.[1]

When I think of Christianity in Brazil, I think of Catholicism.  Brazil has been predominately Catholic since it was settled.  However, Brazil has been right in the middle of a Catholic renewal among Latin nations.[2]  In fact, Brazilian Catholics may have experienced a Charismatic revival as early as the 1890s.  Antonio Conselheiro led a widespread revival with fiery preaching.[3]

Since the Pentecostal Renewal in the early 20th Century, there has been a radical shift.  Brazil is approximately 74% Catholic and 15% Protestant or Pentecostal.  By 2050, projections are that there will be 150 million Catholics and 30-40 million Protestants.  However, Protestants are growing so rapidly that it is possible Brazil will be ½ Protestant by then.  Philip Jenkins, the researcher who compiled these statistics states: “That Brazil will be a key center of world Christianity is beyond doubt, but the precise contours of its religious life are unknowable.”[4]
           
Because of the renewal in Brazil, its society is changing.  Catholics have generally been upper class, white Brazilians.  Protestants have typically been middle class.  Pentecostals have reached out to the poor.  “The [Pentecostal] churches provide a social network that would otherwise be lacking and help teach members the skills they need to survive in a rapidly developing society.”[5]  Modern Pentecostals in Brazil form a sharing community like the Early Church.

Pentecostals lead the way in Brazil.  Over the last few years, Pentecostalism has been growing while Catholicism is shrinking.  In the Sao Paulo metropolis alone, there are more Pentecostals than in the entire U.S.A.  In Rio de Janeiro, there are 40 Pentecostal Churches opening every week.[6]

The Mission Field is now launching missionaries.  The Anglican primate, the overseer of Brazil, exclaims, “London is today’s field of mission.  It’s so secular we have to send people for their salvation.”[7]  Ironically, the seat of the Anglican Church is London, yet the mission field is sending missionaries to the Mother Church.  This is now a common story.

Aldair and Hillary Queiroz
One such story is Aldair Queiroz, a Brazilian citizen, who married Hillary from Missouri.  Now they serve as missionaries for the Pentecostal Church of God in Brazil.  They are ministering and itinerating in the U.S.A. right now.  With their ministry in both countries, and their background in both, which field is their foreign field?  Through their efforts and their predecessors, the P.C.G. has a thriving mission field in Brazil.  God has even empowered them for service miraculously.  Hillary has an amazing story of how God literally enabled her to understand and speak Portuguese instantaneously.  Aldair and Hillary are on the frontlines of the Pentecostal renewal in Brazil.  When I think of Pentecostal expansion in Brazil, I think of the words of Jesus Christ:


Luke 13.29: People will come from the east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.  30: Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. (NIV)


                  [1] FIFA World Cup, http://www.fifa.com/index.html (accessed November 29, 2011).
                  [2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: HarperCollins, 1985), 276-278, 395.
                  [3] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 55-56; [4] 107; [5] 88; [6] 73-74; [7] 245.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"We Are The World:" Crisis In The Horn Of Africa

Many of us remember the famine that swept Ethiopia in the 1980’s, but the reason we do is because of a song recorded in 1985. Many big music stars came together and sang a song written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. “We Are The World” topped the charts, raised awareness of the famine, and garnered worldwide support in an instant. In 2010 the song was re-recorded by top artists in response to the tragedy in Haiti.

Now a similar drought threatens Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, but is it even on the world’s radar? The Horn of Africa is made up of four countries. Eritrea and Djibouti are both small countries on the East Coast. Ethiopia and Somalia are well known. Kenya is a bordering country. According to U.S. Census stats from this summer, the total population of these four countries is estimated to be 107,496,000.[1]

The current drought in this region is the worst in 60 years, including the famine in the 1980’s. Rains stopped in late 2010. As a result, food prices are going up in the area. Somalia is experiencing horrible drought and rain. People are leaving in droves. 1/3 of all children are acutely malnourished. Somalians are fleeing over the border to Kenya, and Kenya is reporting receiving 1,300 Somalian refugees per day. Consequently, the price of grain in Kenya is spiking, with a 30-80% rise in price.[2]

The U.N. is intervening. They report 13.3 million are in great need in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. Thousands of children have died. Over 320,000 people are malnourished and it’s life threatening. The U.N. has taken over 10,000 tons of supplies there. They’ve treated 108,000 children who are malnourished and vaccinated 1.2 million children for measles. They’ve provided 2.2 million people access to safe water. The U.N. is still trying to raise $40 million to use this year. Next year they hope to raise $402.8 million.[3]

We certainly need to pray that God will catch the attention of the World, send relief to the Horn of Africa, and bless every relief effort during this time. There are certainly many relief efforts to support. One is the Joshua Campaign, a faith-based group with four objectives: 1. Humanitarian Relief; 2. Church Planting; 3. Mission Schools Training; and 4. Pioneer, Tribal Evangelism. In their Gospel campaigns, they have seen over 3 million people come to Christ. They’ve ministered to over 300,000 in some of their crusade services.

Not only do they have missionary zeal, the Joshua Campaign also maintains a focus on practical service. They have a HIV Living Center, housing women off the streets and teaching them a trade. They conduct Street Children Projects and Adoption. They are involved in food and relief efforts.

Karl and Jennifer Hargestam are the Founders of the Joshua Campaign to the Horn of Africa. They are joined by Per and Abbi Akvist, Mission Directors to Ethiopia. Abbi herself was born in poverty in Ethiopia.[4] Certainly groups like this can use our prayers and support during this time.

For Christians, the Horn of Africa is not only a distant mission field, but also part of our rich history. A couple of Bible passages point to this area. In 1 Kings 10.1-13 (also see 2 Chronicles 9.1-12), we see that the Queen of Sheba is impressed with Solomon. This may have had long-term religious consequences for this region. In Acts 8.26-40, we see Philip winning an Ethiopian to Christ from the palace of Queen Candace. Possibly from this connection, Ethiopia became a Christian nation.

Later, when the Muslims started to conquer, they took Jerusalem and swept northward into Turkey and East Europe. They swept westward across North Africa and north into Spain. The North African countries were mainly Christian, and one by one they fell. However, the Islamic forces did not attack Ethiopia. In an earlier time, Ethiopia had harbored some Muslim refugees. Because of this act, Muslim forces did not invade.

Ethiopia stood strong as a Christian nation. When other nations fell, the Ethiopian Church even preserved many of their historical documents. At one point in the 7th Century, Ethiopia was the only Christian nation left in Africa.[5]

When we see the devastation in the Horn of Africa today, let’s remember that they’re some of our oldest spiritual ancestors. Many great Christian theologians came out of Africa. At one time, Ethiopia was the only African country holding the torch. We have a lot to be thankful for, because of what they preserved. May our understanding of their sacrifices for us then, fuel our prayers for them now.



[1] U.S. Census Bereau, “International Data Base,” http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/country.php (accessed November 2, 2011).

[2] B.B.C., “Horn of Africa sees ‘Worse Drought in 60 Years,’” British Broadcasting Company, June 28, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13944550 (accessed November 2, 2011).

[3] U.N., “At UNICEF centre, British royals highlight plight of children in Horn of Africa crisis,” U.N. News Centre, November 2, 2011, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40289&Cr=horn+of+africa&Cr1=# (accessed November 2, 2011).

[4] Joshua Campaign International, http://joshuacampaign.com (accessed November 2, 2011).

[5] Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 215-219 and 295-297.