News Worth Listening To
Peru (MNN) -- Battering rains, flash floods, and landslides are still wreaking havoc in the lives of people in northern Peru. At least 78 people have been killed and over 100,000 have lost their homes in the devastation since January. But the floods have gotten worse over the last two weeks. The storms have also destroyed crops, schools, and livelihoods. Washed out bridges and roads are delaying aid efforts. These floods and storms are the worst to hit Peru in over two decades, with rains ten times stronger than usual. And there’s still no end in sight, with more rain expected in the coming weeks. However, Rosa Contreras Hart, the Latin America Area Director for Christian Aid Mission, says the Body of Christ in Peru is taking action. “A ministry that Christian Aid Mission supports in Peru is already providing relief in the affected area. They know the language and the best way to reach with the Gospel to their own countrymen.Even though the ministry meeting hall was damaged by these torrential rains, the congregation has started reaching out to the flood victims.” She shares, “They have already begun to provide fresh drinking water, canned food, clothing, and a New Testament to flood victims. The ministry leader that I spoke of, he said, ‘As the Lord provides, I have decided to continue to help in the area where we serve in northern Peru.’ “He also added, ‘We know that this is the best moment to share hope in Christ with so many people affected by this natural disaster.’” While the ministry leaders are providing aid, they need our help.You can support disaster relief to flood victims in Peru through Christian Aid Mission here. And Contreras Hart asks for one more thing. “Please pray for Peru as the flooding, landslides, and torrential rain have affected many villages, leaving many people without housing and food.” Pray for the rains to subside in Peru so that rebuilding and relief may start in full. Ask God to give the local ministry His wisdom and strength as they use their resources and time to be Christ’s ambassadors of hope to others.
India (MNN) -- For a country that claims to have religious freedom, India sure has been lacking.
Freedom LackingIn 1976, India enacted the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution, with the Preamble of the Constitution declaring that India is a secular nation. Despite this, the country has failed to be non-discriminatory of any other religion besides the majority religion -- Hinduism. India’s constitution prohibits religious discrimination and is supposed to emphasize legal equality of its citizens. However, there are other laws now restricting this freedom. “It’s interesting that India’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and yet, at least six of the 29 states’ governments have implemented laws forbidding forceful conversions, and other states are considering them,” Voice of the Martyrs Canada’s Anthony Rhode explains. “I guess the basic understanding that many have in India is that you are born in your religions. And to convert to another religion either by force or enticement or any other deceptive methods is not allowed.” VOMC sees a problem with this view for a very big reason; who defines what conversions are forced and which are genuine? The state. And a lot of times, Hindu nationalists oppose the conversions of any Hindus to other religions. Yet in India, anyone can convert to Hinduism, and that’s okay by the government, just as long as no one turns away from it. Thankfully, though, these conversion laws have not stopped Christians in India from sharing the Gospel. “We see many bold Christians seeking to live out their faith in their communities. And then there are many of those who really have the understanding that we hold a cross-centered Gospel,” Rhode explains.
All Made EqualAt this point, the concern for religious freedom becomes more than a Christian concern. Part of the reason for the anti-conversion laws and legislation stems from politics and a desire to protect social structures. After all, another part of the thought in India behind the anti-conversion laws is that the freedom of conscience is incompatible with the freedom of convert. Christianity challenges this thought by declaring that all humans are made in the image of God, therefore, no individual is worth more or less than the other. All people have rights, including the right to accept Jesus Christ. “So Christians in particular should take this seriously and defend everybody’s religious liberty and religious freedom…we don’t do that to avoid possible suffering or to combat persecution. Nor do we do it at the expense of our evangelistic efforts. We continue to hold out the truth and to share the Gospel and realize with that, there could be consequences," Rhode says. “There are many in India who are seeking to bring the Gospel to those in their communities, to those in their country, and they realize to do so is going to be risky. To do so is going to require they be willing to face persecution. When they go and they reach out…they do so anticipating they will face opposition. And so they’re prepared.”
Will You Pray?Please, pray for your Christian brothers and sisters in India. Often times Christians from the West feel the need to rescue their persecuted brothers and sisters. But Rhode says that’s not what persecuted Christians want or desire. Most often, persecuted Christians are not asking to be taken from their situations, but instead to be showered in prayers by their Christian family. “It would do us well to remember our persecuted brothers and sisters,” Rhode shares. “And I think prayer is a key factor -- praying for our brothers and sisters in India, praying that the Church in India would be united. Pray for frontline pastors and evangelists who are working in hostile environments.” Also, pray for those who are persecuting Christians, whether it be the government or a neighbor, because they need the Gospel, too. Find more ways to pray here!
Pakistan (MNN) -- Pakistan has a reputation for being extreme when it comes to blasphemy cases. While the laws were written to protect all religions, it’s actually been used to abuse religious minorities. The effect is an extreme violation in freedom of speech and religion. So if Pakistan is so adept at punishing alleged cases of blasphemy, what are they willing to do to eradicate it completely? The latest in this discussion has to do with social media. Earlier this week, rumorswere spread that Facebook would be shut down in Pakistan on March 22nd. However, Facebook was still up and running in the country yesterday. We spoke with Bruce Allen of FMIto get his take on the matter. He says there’s a lot of false claims surrounding the topic, which has riled people up. However, the tension surrounding the subject isn’t unfounded. Allen says, “It is verifiable fact that the high court in Islamabad is trying to put the clamp down on Facebook and social media due to what they call blasphemous content, which they equate or identify with terrorism.” The BBC reportedlast week that Pakistan has asked Facebook for help investigating blasphemy cases online. It is unknown how and if Facebook’s team will help them with any sort of censorship or investigation. But in truth, a total shutdown isn’t out of the question. Allen says, “[Pakistan] shut down Facebook before. Back in 2010, the Pakistani court blocked Facebook for a period over the caricatures that had been posted about the prophet Mohammed.” In 2012, Allen says, they banned YouTube because they identified a blasphemous video that they did not want playing in their country. YouTube created a separate branch for Pakistani servers. It’s possible they will seek the same from Facebook. Censorship like this is always a concern. The question we had for FMI is whether or not it would affect their ministry outreach.
Social media and outreachFacebook is just one of the avenues that groups like FMI use to have instant communication with their partners on the ground. Their messaging app is useful for this purpose. So, what would happen if it was no longer available? Allen says there are other means of communication that can be utilized. But what about when it comes to outreach? Well, there are a couple of things we need to understand. First of all, Allen reminds us that people in Pakistan aren’t as tethered to Facebook as we are in the United States. There are a multitude of reasons why only a percentage of people have access to internet in the first place. This includes location, literacy, electricity, and so on. Within that group, only a small number use Facebook. Overall, Allen estimates, only about five percent of Pakistan’s population is on Facebook. The second thing to understand, he explains, is that the pressure created by the blasphemy laws has already had an adverse effect on social media. In a word, self-censorship. “What’s ended up happening is that many Christian bloggers, social media users have already stopped posting distinctively Christian content online for fear of now being construed as criminals under their current blasphemy laws.” So, while social media is an increasingly important tool for ministry outreach, it isn’t perfect, and it’s not the only tool. “Evangelism, discipleship, church planting, that’s been happening inside Pakistan long before Facebook or any other social media platform had ever been invented. So by God’s grace, those activities are still going to continue even if those tools get restricted or banned.” In fact, Allen says it would be unwise to focus wholly on social media in Pakistan. Much of the Christian Church lives in remote villages, without access to smart phones, much less internet. They focus on audio or image-based tools to help spread the Gospel.
Awareness, empathy, prayer: examples from the early ChurchBelievers in Pakistan remind Allen of the early Church. As we learn through the New Testament, the first generation of Christ followers faced severe persecution. But they never gave up. Even after being imprisoned and beaten, they would come together again and continue their work of the Great Commission. But in this early Church, there was also a strong network of communication, prayer, and support over far distances. That quality of unity doesn’t have to be left behind in history. There are ways you can get involved in supporting your brothers and sisters in Pakistan right now. First, you can learn more about what life is like for everyone living under the restrictive governance in Pakistan. As you learn, try to empathize with Christians who are living under this oppression. And finally, let that empathy drive you to constant prayer. Allen says, “We want to build awareness, but we also say, and our partners in Pakistan say, ‘Pray for us, that we will have courage to continue to speak.’”