Turkey (MNN) -- Minority populations in Turkey increasingly find themselves “on the outs” with authorities and society-at-large. Concerning the future of religious freedom in Turkey, “It’s not looking positive,” says Daniel Hoffman, Executive Director of Middle East Concern. Turkish authorities target foreign Christian leaders, and the world-renowned Hagia Sophia is in the cross-hairs, too. “As President Erdogan continues to lose support, he is looking to ‘scapegoat’ people for the pressure and the difficulties, especially economically, that Turkey is facing. He’s, among other things, accusing the Christian communities of working ‘behind the scenes’ to damage the economy and the country,” Hoffman continues. More about persecution in Turkey here.
Hagia SophiaOne of the world’s oldest churches, the Hagia Sophia, currently functions as a museum in Istanbul. President Erdogan wants to convert it into a mosque. Turkey’s highest court was supposed to announce its decision a few days ago. Instead, the court delayed until July 17th. Hoffman says criminals have targeted churches at the local level more than once in recent weeks. More about that here. “When the police arrested the perpetrators, they would say things like, ‘Well, we attack them (Christians) because they are behind the spread of the coronavirus,’ which is nonsense, of course,” Hoffman states.
“It’s probably inspired by some of these media reports that minority communities, including the Christian community, are working together with foreign countries to damage [Turkey].”
Foreign ChristiansThe difficulties surrounding foreign believers are slightly more complicated. More details here. “There have been quite a number of expatriate Christian leaders who have received an entry ban. So, when they leave, they’re not allowed to come back into the country. It’s difficult to know exactly why this is happening,” Hoffman explains.
“[Several] people have challenged these entry bans in court, but even their lawyers do not get access to their case files. They’re all sealed by the intelligence, so it’s very difficult for the lawyers to defend these people.”
Russia (MNN) — Russia may not be getting over COVID-19 quickly, but the Holy Spirit is moving as many are coming to Christ. India recently passedRussia as having the fourth-most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world. But Russia hasn’t left the virus behind, says Eric mock of Slavic Gospel Association. Many people in Russia are suffering and dying from “double pneumonia,” cases, even if these are not officially counted as COVID-19. “In the midst of this, the government basically has removed restrictions saying everything is back to normal. This has been a fascinating transition because, as we've been saying in previous interviews, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are basically about four weeks behind [the US]. Yet when they began easing restrictions, it was almost identical to the time that we did it as well.”
The work of the Church in RussiaBut as the government shrugs, the Church in Russia is stepping up and reaching out to suffering people. SGA supports these churches through their Christ Over COVID program. “We’re hearing stories of where one family, who themselves were impoverished, was heading out a day help in a community. And what they discovered in situation after situation were single-parent homes. Mothers in this current crisis couldn't even feed their children. And to show up with a bag of groceries, they looked at that and they said, ‘This is evidence that God has not forgotten us. Please tell us about the Gospel.’” Mock describes COVID-19 as one of the greatest crisis the Church has ever seen on a global scale. But he is excited that many people are turning to Christ even as the pandemic causes so much mayhem and loss. As lives are being transformed in the present, Mock says, “We look to a future time in which as, as the Apostle Paul says, especially in 1 Corinthians 15, all things are made new. We look towards a new heaven and a new earth and a new time in which all sin is gone and all tears have been dried up.” You can get involved with the Christ Over COVID program and support churches in Russia as they spread help and hope. The header image shows Moscow during the lockdown. (Image by Анна Иларионова from Pixabay)
Ecuador (MNN) — Global Disciples' Ministry in Latin America has seen a huge growth in the past few years. The ministry was born in 1998 when Ernesto Cardenas and others met together to talk about how to train local churches to reach people for Christ. Today, Global Disciples in Latin America has 93 programs and works with 17 church clusters. Cardenas, based in Ecuador, is now the coordinator for the ministry in Latin America. What does this ministry look like? Cardenas compares it to a parable in Luke 15. “A woman who had several silver coins lost one. Then she turned on the light and the lamp [to look]. It looks like that. People are hungry for more. But in this case, she only had one coin. So, people are looking for the ninety-nine.” Global Disciples has a vision to reach these “ninety-nine” with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Cardenas says this often involves planting churches in areas where Christ has little witness. He says, “That's the important thing. With the resources that they have finding creative ways to reach out for others.”
How to get involvedOne way Christians can get involved is to spread the word about what Global Disciples is doing in Latin America. Cardenas says the organization is developing a solid network of churches to partner with, both in Latin America and the United States. “In that way, we are finding good partners that are joining us to so we can keep growing and keep promoting discipleship and mission-based programs centered on Jesus.” COVID-19 has affected this ministry, of course. Many countries have seen massive case counts, especially Brazil. Right now, Global Disciples workers in Latin America find their travel restricted. But Cardenas says, “The ministry is continuing. The ministry is going on in Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Central America. We have people right there on the ground knocking on doors and praying with people.” Pray for this ministry, especially in the middle of the pandemic. People are suffering, Cardenas says, both from sickness and the economic consequences of lockdown. “We have directors, key leaders, who are in the midst of areas that are strongly infected. They have been infected. They have been suffering bad, but they are fixing their eyes on Jesus.” Pray that the Church in Latin America will image Christ in how they help those who are suffering and provide the hope of the Gospel. The header image is courtesy of Global Disciples on Facebook.
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