Here and There

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Trap or Testimony?

Editor’s note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Was it a trap? After all, why would a prominent Muslim sheik—a journalist—phone the Back to God Hour’s Arabic ministry leader to ask for help?

“It’s not that I thought my life was in danger,” said the ministry leader (we’ll call him Mazin). “But radical fundamentalist Muslims have tried to gain our trust by pretending to be Christians so they can locate our ministry partners in other countries.”

Mazin and his staff have learned to discern who is a true convert and who may be trying to infiltrate. “We ask questions like, ‘Why do you want to meet me?’ We tell them we are not interested in politics and religion.

“If it becomes apparent that the person truly wants to become a Christian, we test his heart. We ask, ‘Do you know what it will cost you to become a Christian?’ Their answers show if they are sincere.”

When the sheik, Zafer, asked to meet with Mazin his answers to these questions were not persuasive, so Mazin declined. Shortly afterward, however, when Mazin was meeting fellow Christians at the airport a woman who was with the group reported that Zafer was on the plane and had been asking about Mazin.

“He says he has a letter from a pastor saying Mazin can help him. He needs housing for his wife and two children,” she reported. She said she was convinced that Zafer was sincere because he had told them, “We are asking God to guide us. God sent us here.”

“We learned that Zafer was running away because he had been involved in a public debate about Islam’s intolerance of freedom of thought,” reports Mazin. It turned out that Zafer was indeed a journalist and a professor who had studied Islamic theology and laws. He began to see discrepancies, and when he questioned other scholars his doubts increased. He set out to prove all religions were illogical, starting with Christianity.

Zafer’s life changed when he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the book of Matthew, Mazin reported. Jesus’ words shattered all his previous concepts about religion. God brought him together with a local pastor who befriended him and answered his questions, and Zafer committed his life to Christ.

Zafer lost his job when he began talking with students and colleagues about the Sermon on the Mount. But he kept publishing articles questioning Islamic thought until he was told his life was in danger. Even his wife threatened to turn him over to the authorities, until Jesus changed her life too.

Zafer asked the local church to baptize him and his family, but three pastors declined, afraid they would attract persecution if they baptized a prominent sheik. One pastor recommended he contact Mazin, who lives in another country, and so Mazin had the privilege of baptizing a sheik and his whole family.

Mazin continues to disciple Zafer, and already God is using this convert from Islam as a valuable partner in the Back to God Hour’s broadcast to the Arabic-speaking world.

—Nancy Vander Meer is a freelance writer for the Back to God Hour.

CRWRC Has Staying Power in “Forgotten Emergencies”

Tsunami, genocide, AIDS, war. Catastrophic emergencies such as these capture our attention until they’re replaced by the next news event. The reality is that global disasters require years of recovery and rebuilding.

Recently the Reuters Foundation asked 100 humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics, and activists which of the world’s “forgotten” emergencies the media should focus on in 2005 (see www.alertnet.org). Of the top-10 catastrophes they identified, CRWRC is at work in six*:

Uganda—CRWRC has been in Uganda for 23 years during conflicts that displaced 1.8 million people and left 100,000 dead. It has worked in partnership with 25 strong Christian organizations and continues to give emergency aid to thousands of school children and families.

Sudan—Thousands of Sudanese have been raped, maimed, and burned out of their homes during two decades of conflict. By the time a peace agreement was struck in Darfur, 180,000 people were dead and 1.5 million displaced. CRWRC is working with 35,000 refugees to improve nutrition and combat malaria and diarrhea, especially among children. It also provides seeds and tools to help refugees grow their own food.

AIDS—Two-thirds of the people with AIDS—40 million in all—live in sub-Saharan Africa. This horrible disease has orphaned 14 million children in Africa alone. CRWRC has been tackling the AIDS crisis since the early 1990s with programs in 12 countries. Its partners work in home-based health care and community outreach, teach prevention and biblical values, advocate against discrimination, and train pastors to address the needs of orphans and their caregivers.

West Africa conflict—Civil war has plagued West Africa for decades. In Sierra Leone, conflict officially subsided three years ago, but in both Liberia and Sierra Leone millions who fled their homes to avoid being killed remain displaced. CRWRC began resettlement in Liberia in 2004. In Sierra Leone, it is active in AIDS prevention and treatment, trauma support, home rebuilding, community-based health care, and clinic rehabilitation. With Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM), 35 churches have been planted in Sierra Leone during 20 years of ministry.

Haiti—More than half of the people in Haiti live on less than $1 a day and nearly as many children are malnourished. Flooding from Hurricane Jeanne last year added to the misery of poverty and political unrest. The Christian Reformed Church has been active in Haiti for 30 years. CRWRC has provided emergency aid while restoring agriculture and irrigation systems. With CRC-Haiti and CRWM, CRWRC is developing community outreach models with the seminary in the capital and is working with Partners Worldwide to assist small businesses.

Infectious diseases—Malaria, tuberculosis, and dengue fever no longer threaten North America, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the world. Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk for contracting malaria. Two million people die from TB each year, with eight million new cases reported. Dengue fever, contracted from polluted water, kills 24,000 people a year and sickens hundreds of thousands more. For more than 35 years, CRWRC has addressed the health needs of the world’s poorest people by teaching hygiene and sanitation, introducing foods that address vitamin deficiencies, building latrines and wells, and teaching water purification with locally available resources.

The top-10 “forgotten” emergencies of 2005 may not make the front page of your local paper or be the lead story in the evening news. But by supporting the faithful efforts of CRWRC, you and your church are doing something about them.

*“Forgotten” conflict areas where CRWRC is not active are the Congo, Columbia, Chechnya, and Nepal.

Statistical Information based on Reuters Foundation AlertNet, “Top 10 ‘Forgotten’ Emergencies of 2005” at www.alertnet.org.

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Pastors Experience Disaster Relief Up Close and Personal

Five West Michigan pastors found out just how hard disaster relief volunteers work when they participated in Pastor’s Week, sponsored by Disaster Response Services (DRS), a program of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

“We did things we never thought we could,” said Bonnie Fyneweaver, whose husband, Ron, is pastor at Kelloggsville CRC. The pastors and several of their spouses put in full days cutting drywall, insulating, painting, and building decks, steps, and ramps.

The pastors’ group served in Swan Quarter, N.C., a low-income community that was flooded by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. “I was very impressed with the fact that CRWRC not only went there to do initial assessment but [has stayed]. The impact on the community has just been phenomenal,” said Rev. John Steigenga of LaGrave Avenue CRC, Grand Rapids, Mich.

There are about 1,300 active DRS volunteers. These men and women serve on three-week assignments once a year or more. Skilled volunteers are always needed for reconstruction work, especially in the wake of disasters such as hurricanes or tornados.

“I was deeply impressed by the CRWRC volunteers,” Steigenga said. “These are the unpaid leaders, the unsung heroes. They are doing this as a second career.”

“The purpose of Pastor’s Week is to expose pastors to what DRS does,” said Pat Harper of CRWRC. “Once they understand the program they can take the excitement back to their congregations and churches.”

The team leaders for the pastors’ group were Rick and Bonnie Wiersma, retirees from Hudsonville, Mich. The Wiersmas team up with Christians from other churches, ministries, and agencies to help get a community back onto its feet.

“You look at this as a way to serve the Lord, but you come out of it so much more enriched than you can possibly imagine,” Bonnie Wiersma said.

—Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer and Banner correspondent.

Campus Ministers told to “Partner strategically”

Members of the Christian Reformed Campus Ministry Association gathered at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe Hall for their annual conference this spring. “The thirty-six people here minister in ‘parishes’ numbering almost one million souls,” Peter Schuurman told the group. “We need to partner strategically in order to further God’s mission in this challenging academic context.”

As the new educational mission leader for Christian Reformed Home Missions, Schuurman is responsible for coordinating the 24 campus missions receiving grants. Geoff Wichert, campus minister at the University of Toronto, led a discussion on the Christian Reformed Church’s long relationship with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF).

Additional business included electing a new chair, Mike Fallon (McMaster University, Ont.) and vice chair, Rev. Ron DeJong (Western Michigan University). New members were welcomed, including Rev. Paul Verhoef (University of Calgary, Alta.), Jamie VanderBerg (University of Guelph, Ont.) and Randy Gabrielse (Iowa State University). The group also toasted Rev. Ed Den Haan, who joked that, after 27 years of service at the University of Guelph, “I’m not retiring as much as I’m re-treading.”

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