Saturday, 30 November 2019

Trailer for 'Breakthrough' Breaks Records with 40 Million Views in One Week

'It's a Testament to God's Power'

'Breakthrough'  is based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds 20th Century Fox

The trailer for the forthcoming faith-based film "Breakthrough" broke records with a staggering 40 million views in one week, highlighting God's power, producer DeVon Franklin has said.

Starring Chrissy Metz of This Is Us, "Breakthrough" tells the real-life story of Joyce and John Smith.

When John, Joyce's adopted son, falls through the ice into the freezing waters of a Missouri lake, it seems that all hope is lost. As John lay without any signs of life in excess of an hour, his mother began to fervently pray for any miracle. Miraculously, John's heart starts to beat again, astounding everyone present and defying every scientific prediction. Mere days after the accident, John walked away from the hospital, fully healed.

Franklin, a bestselling author, pastor, and President/CEO of Franklin Entertainment, told The Gospel Herald that within days of its release, the trailer for "Breakthrough" garnered a staggering 40 million views, making it the most successful trailer launch of a faith-based film ever.

"It's unprecedented," Franklin said. "It's just a testament to God's power and proof that people are hungry for hope and inspiration. Beyond a great story, this film is a great entertainment experience that everyone will enjoy."

Franklin told GH he signed on to produce "Breakthrough" after hearing Smith's story while promoting his previous film, "Miracles from Heaven." He was drawn to the story because it's a "love letter to the power of prayer and the power of community."

"Before the accident, John always struggled with his identity," he shared. "It really reaffirmed for him that he is loved by God, he does have a place in this world, and that God does have a plan for his life."

The theme of identity is woven throughout the film, Franklin said, and is evident not just in John's life, but Joyce's, too.

"Joyce is incredibly headstrong and a force of nature, but she also has to come to a moment where she has to really go deep inside herself to figure out who she really is," he explained. "There's a moment in the film which I won't ruin where she goes before God with questions related to her identity. It's truly one of the most powerful moments in the film."

The film also drives home the importance of choosing faith over fear, Franklin said, adding: "This true story is striking a really strong chord with people because they want hope and inspiration, and they also want to be reminded that God is still in the miracle-working business."

And while the Smith family's story is rooted in faith, it resonates with both Christian and secular audiences. Franklin told GH that at an advanced screening for the film, one viewer who doesn't profess any particular faith "cried all the way through the film."

"They said it was the most moving film they'd ever seen, even though they weren't a Christian," Franklin shared. "The reason it resonates with everyone is simply that it's a great story. At the end of the day, we're all human, and we are all God's children."

"This movie really humanizes the struggle of what happens when life hits us unexpectedly, and how do we make it through," he continued. "It's in our toughest moments that we realize that we need others in order to make it through."

NBA superstar Steph Curry serves as an executive producer on the film, marking his first venture into the world of cinema. Franklin told GH that Curry was on board the minute he read the script.

"He was blown away by the story," he shared. "We have an all-star team on this film, between Curry and Rev. Sam Rodriguez, who is also my friend."
"Breakthrough" also stars Marcel Ruiz ("One Day at a Time"), Mike Colter ("Luke Cage"), and Topher Grace ("That 70's Show"). The film is slated to hit movie screens on April 12, 2019.

Watch the trailer below and learn more at Breakthrough Movie

Credit to Gospel herald

Friday, 29 November 2019

Volunteering is a Good Career Activity

Christians volunteer because they are giving people. Volunteering, however, is not only a Christian act of devotion to one’s fellow man but also is a good career activity for the volunteer.

There are many reasons why volunteering helps volunteers not only to secure future jobs but also to thrive in their present jobs. First, let’s talk about future jobs. Volunteer experience can positively impress a potential, future employer. This positive impression can help a resume stand out over other resumes. The volunteer experience also can help the volunteer during job interviews.

There are different reasons for this positive bias during resume reading and during the conduct of job interviews. Employers want to hire people who can get along well with the other employees in their organizations' Such employers might reason that people who volunteer their time and effort are also the type of giving people who can get along well, not only with fellow employees but also with customers. As Erma Bombeck once said, “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”

Good public relations is another reason for such a positive hiring bias. When employees of a company volunteer their time and effort, such volunteer work reflects well on the company that employs them. The public prefers to buy goods or services from companies that they like and trust.

Those who volunteer often feel better about themselves when they follow the Biblical encouragement of 1 Peter 4:10 which reads, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Volunteering actually helps the volunteer to overcome depression.

There are still more benefits to volunteering. One such benefit is good work references for a resume. It is much easier for a volunteer to get a good reference from a volunteer supervisor than it is for an employee to get a good reference from a work supervisor.

Another advantage of volunteering is the opportunity to increase the network of people who might be helpful in future job searches. Many other volunteers will be working for many other companies that, in the future, might be hiring. Networking is one of the best ways to find a job.

Still another benefit of volunteering is the increased ability to try out new jobs. Instead of acquiring a reputation as a “job hopper,” a volunteer compiles an impressive list of volunteer experiences.
Such volunteer experiences also help volunteers to acquire new and transferable skills while performing their volunteer jobs. Many organizations also will train their volunteers.

Those who are interested in volunteering can search for opportunities by using the internet. There are national databases of volunteer activities that allow searchers to limit their search to their local area.
Volunteer and watch lives improve, including your own.

About the Author
Dan Vale has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and he has been a career counselor, a director of a career counseling center, a graduate school instructor, and a career consultant. As the Career Examiner for the Examiner Online Newspaper, he published 270 career-related articles over a seven-year period, during which the time he had multiple endorsements and subscribers, and in April 2016 alone, he had over 19,000 page reads. 
You can view his books at his Amazon Author Page.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Church Members Can Help Each Other Get Through Unemployment

Not too long ago, more people had secure jobs than is the case today. More jobs today are part-time, temporary, or contract jobs. Unemployment is more likely today because more people are forced to have many different jobs in a lifetime.

Under these conditions, the ideal scenario is to go from one job immediately to the next job. Unfortunately, that does not always happen, and they're often is a period of unemployment between jobs. Eliminating unemployment or at least keeping it as brief as possible is the obvious goal of most who are, or soon will be unemployed.

Prolonged unemployment can be a family disaster. This is especially true if the only breadwinner is unemployed for an extended period of time. The stress of unemployment eventually can lead to:

  • Damaged family relationships when the unemployed person asks to borrow from relatives
  • Bankruptcy
  • Foreclosed homes
  • Repossessed cars
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism or substance abuse
  • Spouse or child abuse
  • Divorce
  • Suicide

Unfortunately, too many people keep their unemployment status as a shameful secret. This is especially true with men. That is unfortunate, because, in the current era, unemployment often has little to do with the qualifications or character of those who are unemployed. It usually has more to do with a changing national job outlook, and workers are too often only innocent victims.

By networking with their family, friends, neighbors, work associates, social contacts, and fellow church members, these unemployed people are likely to be hired more quickly. Telling everyone about their job seeking status will increase the chances that these job seekers will hear information about job openings.

This article will focus on networking efforts with the unemployed person’s church members. Spiritual brothers and sisters are likely to give an unemployed member of their church their wholehearted networking support.
These spiritual brothers and sisters have many ways to help their unemployed brother or sister. They probably, for example, are members of many other types of organizations that also can expand a person’s job-seeking network. Some of those in the church also might have their own businesses. 
Thus, they might be able to offer to their unemployed brother or sister a part-time, temporary, or even permanent job. Finally, if the unemployed person’s financial situation is grim, some of these spiritual brothers and sisters might make unsolicited offers to loan them some much-needed money.


If enough members of the church are unemployed, the church also might offer a room and computer equipment for the job seekers’ support group. These support group members can meet on a regular basis to help each other applicants for jobs. What job-seeking expertise one member does not have, another member might have, and vice versa.

During this difficult period, a priest or minister can offer skilled counseling only if the unemployed person does not hide his or her unemployment status. The urge to withdraw into private shame is counterproductive and can start a downward spiral. A willingness to accept the reality of their unemployment and a readiness to accept the available help is part of the adaptive, upward spiral that will get unemployed people past their temporary career setbacks.

In the future, the temporarily unemployed person might find that these roles have been reversed. At a future time, when the formerly unemployed person has a job, some of his or her fellow church members might be unemployed. Then, the now employed person will be in a position to help them in the manner that they helped him or her before. This will give new meaning to Christ’s command, “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.”

About the Author

Dan Vale has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and he has been a career counselor, a director of a career counseling center, a graduate school instructor, and a career consultant. As the Career Examiner for the Examiner Online Newspaper, he published 270 career-related articles over a seven-year period, during which the time he had multiple endorsements and subscribers, and in April 2016 alone, he had over 19,000 page reads. You can view his books at his Amazon Author Page.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Second-Guess Surprising Conversions, But The New Testament Teaches Us Not

The New Testament Teaches Us Not to Second-Guess Surprising Conversions

Kanye West bows his head in prayer at the Gateway in Salt Lake City
Long before Kanye, even the most unexpected believers—like Paul himself—point us toward acceptance over suspicion.

Kanye West’s move from saying “Jesus walks” to confess “Jesus is King” has divided Christians.

Some are overjoyed that such a prominent figure has made the public turn to faith. Others are more hesitant, taking the “let’s see if this sticks” approach. Kanye himself expected the latter, singing on his new album, “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? They’ll be the first one to judge me. Make it feel like nobody loves me.”

While some believers want to wait and see whether his faith is genuine, we don’t find much evidence for this strategy in the Scriptures.

The early church in Acts had its share of surprising transformations and celebrity conversions, which stirred a range of reactions. But ultimately, the text points to acceptance over distrust. It also emphasizes the importance of perseverance for these unexpected converts.

These accounts suggest that with Kanye, there is room for the church to rejoice without suspicion, while also pleading for endurance and mentorship in the faith.

Paul’s Sudden Transformation

Paul represents the first surprising conversion in Acts. He was a killer of Christians, but then Jesus appeared to him. Understandably, Paul’s conversion is met with some hesitation and fear. Some readers today may take this response as a case for wariness when someone does an about-face. Ananias questions whether he should go to Paul when the Lord comes to him (Acts 9:13-16). The crowd in Damascus is amazed, wondering what has happened (Acts 9:21). In Jerusalem, the disciples were afraid and did not believe he was a disciple (Acts 9:26).

Each reaction is different based on context. But it helps to consider their concerns in light of the pattern we see throughout Scripture: Continually, God’s people are slow to God’s plan. They need help to catch up on his agenda. They need convincing when God’s plan is out sprinting ahead of them.

In contrast to the skeptics, Barnabas testifies to those in Jerusalem on Paul’s behalf, and they listen to him (Acts 9:27). He is gracious and patient with their concerns and explains the change he has seen. (Maybe the “accepters” need to hear this as well and be gracious to “skeptics.”) The crowd moves from doubt to acceptance based on Barnabas’s testimony.

This does not mean texts like the Parable of the Sower are out of the discussion. There is a place for watching for fruit and perseverance. However, waiting is put into the context of grace and hope, not concern and judgment.

Cornelius’s Surprising Transformation

A next surprising conversion comes from Cornelius and his household in Acts 10–11. Once again, we sense a hesitation as the Jerusalem council gathers to debate Cornelius and his household among the earliest accounts of Gentile conversions (Acts 10-11,15).

However, their story is not an example of “let’s see if it sticks.” In fact, Peter and the rest are quite quick to accept that a Gentile centurion, the last person they would expect, has come to the faith. They recognize right away that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:45-46).

The Spirit has overcome their prejudices. The evidence is clear. The question in the Council is not if Gentiles are saved, but how and in what way they can enter the people of God. The council accepts the fruit of the Spirit.

The council concludes Gentiles don’t have to “act like Jews” to enter. This is an interesting example because the Spirit’s arrival and the evident fruit makes the conversion of Cornelius’s house widely accepted. They see fruit and move forward accordingly. This does not mean they move forward uncritically, but they move forward with open arms.

Simon the Sorcerer, a New Testament Celebrity Convert

There is also a “celebrity conversion” in Acts: Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:4-25). This passage is notoriously difficult, and interpreters are divided about whether Simon’s faith is genuine, to begin with. He “believed and was baptized” (Acts 8:13) and followed Phillip, but Peter refused to pray that Simon would receive the Holy Spirit, citing the condition of his heart.

Some are suspicious noting his discipleship to Philip is abnormal, and his fascination with signs and miracles will be his downfall. However, I think it is better to see Luke presenting this initially as a genuine conversion, though time will reveal the truth.

As Acts commentator Eckhard J. Schnabel writes, “There is no hint that Philip baptized Simon prematurely.” Simon follows Philip like the disciples follow Jesus, and he is amazed at the signs of Philip like the Samaritans (Acts 8:6–7). It’s easy to doubt Simon’s conversion as genuine when we as readers already know the end of the story. But Luke makes a point present Simon’s conversion in a positive light before he reveals its spuriousness. This trains his readers to realize not everything is at it seems in kingdom ministry – like with Simon's miracles. Some people might be attracted initially for the wrong reasons.

We learn that Simon ultimately thinks the apostles are magicians like him, and he can purchase and mechanically control the Spirit (8:18-25). Peter responds by pronouncing the Old Testament curses upon him, but also calling him to repentance. In verse 24, Simon asks for Peter to pray for him, but again interpreters are divided on whether his request is genuine.

Though I lean toward a more pessimistic view of Simon’s future, Luke is formally silent about the outcome of Simon. This omission does two things. It instructs readers to search for the main point of this text elsewhere. The word of God powerfully spreads to Samaria under the preaching of Philip and through the hands of Peter and John—so much that even Simon, a celebrity sorcerer, recognizes the power that comes through them. In addition, leaving Simon's future open, Luke urges his readers to consider his back and forth—acceptance, fall, repentance?—and see that the work of God is not always clear initially.

In Acts, we see Simon can be accepted, but he must persevere. Peter’s rebuke exists under the umbrella of grace; it is a covenantal curse. A celebrity conversion in that sense is not different from any conversion. Luke doesn’t encourage an initial suspicion over the magician’s new faith, nor should we expect celebrity converts to inevitably fall. Rather, Simon’s conversion is presented as genuine and he goes on to receive baptism—but time (and his money) reveals his heart.

Praying for Perseverance and a Barnabas

We see that conversions in Acts should be viewed initially with joy, acceptance, and baptism. However, Paul will also go around to the churches he planted and “encourage them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23), to “continue in the grace of God” (13:43), to “remain true to the faith” (Acts 14:22). Paul urges his congregation in Philippi to “hold firmly to the word of life” because then he will be able to boast on the day of the Lord knowing that he “did not run or labor in vain” (Phil 2:16). Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out about their faith fearing he had labored in vain (1 Thess. 3:1-5).

Encouraging perseverance is not the same as suspecting disbelief and doubt. Paul writes to these congregations as saints. He tells them they are loved by God. He encourages them by saying he remembers their faith, love, and hope. He says they have a great inheritance waiting for them: We need to hold fast to Christ, but ultimately he is the one who holds fast to us.

As Christians, we should also remember that discipleship and growth take time (see 1 Corinthians!). No convert can be expected to be shot into maturity immediately. Even when those who come to faith happen to be famous, not every Christian needs to be a leader, public spokesperson, or the next Constantine.

So what do the Scriptures teach us about how we are to respond to Kanye’s turn to Christ? They encourage rejoicing, acceptance, and support. They also call us to pray for his perseverance and for a mentor. To recognize that all of us can labor in vain. We shouldn’t rain on anyone’s Christ parade. We should fall to our knees asking the Lord of the Harvest to continue the work he has begun.

We have reports of gospel musicians and pastors themselves who vouch for Kanye’s faith. My prayer is that Kanye would continue to be mentored, that a Barnabas would come into his life, that he would grow into an oak of righteousness.

God, show him the way for the devil’s trying to break him down. Jesus walks. Even better, Jesus is King.

Written By PATRICK SCHREINER, an assistant professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary and the author of Matthew, Disciple, and Scribe (Baker Academic, 2019).

Monday, 18 November 2019

Church Planting And Why Basic Training Is Very Important

An assessment of the Hispanic Church Planting Report reveals the necessity of training.

Brendan Jones

Earlier this year, the Send Institute at the Billy Graham Center commissioned a study on Hispanic Church Planting. It was a joint sponsored project between 12 denominations with an advisory team of 8 Hispanic church planting leaders. Members of the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship provided lists of new Hispanic church works, and LifeWay Research fielded the study.

Send Institute Director Daniel Yang provided an overview of what church planting organizations can learn from the survey. Then, Robert Guerrero shared on what we can learn about grit and faith. Today, Ramón Osorio, Ethnic Relations Director at the North American Mission Board, talks about why basic training is critical for church planters.

According to the Hispanic Church Planting Report, church planting basic training plays a major role when it comes to the number of new commitments to Jesus Christ in Hispanic congregations during the first four years of existence.

Typically, church plants grow when members from other churches transfer membership or when believers move to the area and are looking for a church.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with those methods of church growth, the goal of church planting is to expand the Kingdom of God through new believers who will also present the gospel to those who do not have a relationship with Christ.

Planters who received basic training in church planting prior to launching a new congregation saw more new commitments to Jesus than those who did not. Clearly, we have a case for investing time in church planters before they start working on the field.

One can argue that a church planter’s training should continue even after they have launched the church. From the survey, we see that regardless of the type and duration of the instruction, basic training positively impacts the success rate of church planters and the expansion of the kingdom, equipping planters to better understand essential factors in the church planting process.

This knowledge allows new churches to start healthier and be more evangelistic.

Any kind of training that church planters receive needs to establish the biblical foundations for the mission and the Christian character of the planter. Besides those key elements, basic training should address four main factors: calling, motivation, team development and leadership, and community exegesis and engagement.

First, when planters arrive at the basic training meeting, they have usually gone through a selection process, but it is always important to make sure they have a clear calling from God to church planting and to the area where they will serve.

Even though over 80 percent of church plants persist, two out of ten do not. One of the reasons church plants fail is a leader to whom God never asked to start a congregation in that specific place. God calls people to all sorts of ministry, but the type of challenges facing church planters require the planter and his family to be certain of God’s calling. This is the case for 76 percent of the Hispanic planters in the survey.

Second, planters should know their motivation for starting a new church before they move into the field.

Church planting is difficult, and at times the only reason to continue is the certainty of the calling and the conviction of pure motivation. Basic training should lead planters to discover and discard from their hearts wrong motivations like the lack of other ministry opportunities, the desire to ‘show them how it should be done,’ church splits, or other motivations similar to these.

Instead, in basic training, sending organizations must call planters to find their motivation in their love for God, their love for the lost, and their commitment to Christ’s mission of making disciples.

Third, basic training ought to equip church planters in how to form and lead multiplying teams with a missional DNA.

In the New Testament, we learned that the Apostle Paul planted churches in teams. From the survey, we learned that 62 percent of the planters started the work alone. With that, it is encouraging to see that 80 percent of pastors delegate key leadership roles to volunteers, and 75 percent of pastors provide leadership training to their church members.

This team-building approach becomes more important with bi-vocational or co-vocational planters because they need to share responsibilities in order to comply with family, work, and ministry demands. Another advantage of training planters in team leadership is that the congregation starts with a multiplying culture that will facilitate planting new churches in the short term.

Fourth, a successful church plant connects the right church model with the right outreach activities with the right community.

A poorly planned service with ESL classes as a major outreach in a highly educated niche of Hispanics will probably not get enough traction. In basic training, church planters should learn how to study the geography and demography of the area that God is calling them. This becomes more important when 69 percent of attendees live within twenty minutes of the gathering place.

This study of the community begins with collecting demographic data, learning the history of the city and region, and identifying the influential leaders. This information is usually available online or at the city’s office. A point to notice here is that only 41 percent of planters pursue meetings and interviews with area leaders to understand the community. Those who train planters ought to emphasize the importance of connecting with the power brokers in the community they serve.

But the exegesis of the community goes beyond online data.

Planters must know how to understand the culture of the community in general and of the different groups that compose it.

This is true even for first-generation Hispanic pastors because Hispanics in the United States come from different countries, diverse religious, social, educational, and economic backgrounds and, in addition, have adopted values and forms from the host nation and from other people in their immediate context.

With everything they learn from the community, planters will establish the vision, decide the model, and plan the strategy for the new church.

The fact that only 30 percent of the respondents indicated they received training that incorporated dynamics of the Latino/Hispanic context shows how much work we need to do in this area. The exegesis of the people where the church will start is vital, especially when only 35 percent of church plants selected the location because of those they are trying to reach. The rest of the church plants chose their place of gathering based on availability or convenience.

Finally, those in charge of training planters should emphasize that serving the community is not a tool to get people to know you or your church or one that you can use in the infant years of the congregation and abandon once they gather a good group of attendees.

Serving the community is a way of showing the love of God to our neighbors, regardless of their decision about the church or about Christ. The new church plant needs to think in terms of how to bless her community and motivate and teach the members to get involved. It is interesting to notice how 75 percent of adults serve in the church and only 25 percent serve in the community.

If we want to see church start-ups that grow through new commitments to Jesus Christ, mother churches, denominations, or sending networks must provide church planters with basic church planting training before they start planting. To be effective, that training needs to lead the planters towards self-awareness with regards to calling and motivation, equip the planter in working as a team catalyst and guide the planter in how to understand and connect with the community where the new church will flourish.

Written by RAMÓN OSORIO and was first published on Christianity Today

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Ethnic Tensions Rises as Ethiopians Protest Church Burnings

After a dramatic October, some say Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed must earn his Nobel Peace Prize.

Last month, Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation” as prime minister of Ethiopia. Today, he announced that the unusual unrest and ethnic violence which also marked last month had killed nearly 90 of his citizens.

A reformer and a reconciler, the 43-year-old head of state has made unprecedented changes in just 18 months in office, including ending a longstanding border war with neighboring Eritrea; appointing women to half his cabinet posts; releasing thousands of political prisoners, and diffusing a tense situation with insubordinate military officers by doing push-ups.

“I see Abiy as an answer to prayer,” said Frew Tamrat, principal of Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, the capital city. “He tries to live by biblical values. He is a preacher of peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness.”

Though he has a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother, Abiy [Ethiopians go by their given names] attends a “Pente” church whose denomination—Mulu Wongel (Full Gospel Believers)—belongs to the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia.

“His style of leadership relies a lot on a kind of positive mindset, word-of-faith-type Pentecostal charismatic religion,” said Meron Tekleberhan, a graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology currently finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Durham. “He considers that to be the source of his political philosophy.”

Abiy’s peacemaking has not been limited to the political sphere. In August 2018, he successfully reconciled two factions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the largest religious group in Ethiopia.

The Tewahedo church comprises 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population and has more than 45 million followers, according to the World Christian Database. In 1991, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was exiled to the United States in the power transition between the Derg communist regime and the current state, leading to the creation of a so-called “exiled synod.”

Reconciliation between the two factions was unforeseen. According to the Tewahedo tradition, a patriarch is only appointed once the previous patriarch has passed away, so there was no scenario for cooperation. Thanks to Abiy’s input, the estranged leaders of the two synods now work side by side, with believers able to worship together.

Similar to Nelson Mandela’s concept of ubuntu, Abiy often invokes the unity of medemer as his political motivation. The literal meaning in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, is “addition,” but the word can also be translated as “synergy” or ”togetherness.” A million-copy manifesto outlining his political philosophy and published under the same title was released in October.

Yet there are many who fear that the peace prize was premature. The Nobel committee itself acknowledged that “many challenges remain unresolved,” noting especially the vast amounts of people forced to flee their homes amid rising ethnic tensions. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Ethiopia currently leads the world with 2.9 million people displaced by violence.

That number continues to rise as conflict grows. Today, Abiy announced that 86 people were killed last month and thousands more displaced in widespread civil unrest across the Oromia region.

“He may [eventually] deserve a Nobel prize, but not now,” said Meron. “It seems premature, overenthusiastic on the part of the committee, and a bit superficial.”

Tedla Woldeyohannes, an Ethiopian professor of philosophy at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Missouri, credits current political turmoil to Abiy’s “pastoral prime ministership.” In his view, the current deterioration in law and order is enabled by Abiy’s focus on an agenda of love, peace, and reconciliation.

“Expecting people to love one another and to live in peace with one another just because a leader of a country speaks about these topics is not practicable,” he argued in an op-ed for ECAD Forum. “A leader’s commitment to a country is to protect the safety and security of citizens, not to exercise patience toward criminals.”

Recent political conflicts have had religious consequences. Last month’s celebrations of Meskel—a festival commemorating the fourth-century finding of the true cross, according to Tewahedo tradition—reflected an urgent longing for an elusive peace. This year, the proceedings in Addis Ababa were noticeably political. Half a million people chanted: “May there be peace, peace, peace for Ethiopia.”

Just a week before Meskel, tens of millions of people marched across the nation. It was the latest in a series of peaceful protests condemning rising violence towards Tewahedo churches throughout the country. Since Abiy’s ascension, more than 30 churches have been violently attacked, and more than half were razed to the ground. Approximately 45 clergy and church members have also been killed while defending their churches against mob attacks from ethno-nationalist groups.

The largest of these demonstrations took place in the city of Bahir Dar, 200 miles north of the capital. Wearing traditional white religious garments, protesters thronged the palm tree-lined avenues of the nation’s fifth-largest city carrying Ethiopian flags, the colorful umbrellas used in Tewahedo religious ceremonies, and signs and banners denouncing violence and expressing solidarity.

“Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have been slaughtered,” said Seifu Alemayehu, a demonstration organizer, at a press conference in September, noting also the displacement of thousands more. “The government has been neglectful while this is happening.”

Recent violence appears to be politically motivated. In July, three churches were torched and three people killed in the southern region of Sidama amid protests demanding regional autonomy and ethnic self-administration.

With the coffee-growing region a focal point of an ongoing saga of widespread ethno-nationalism, Abiy authorized a referendum in Sidama this November to determine its status.

“The hostility towards Ethiopian Orthodox churches is deeply tied to ethnic identity politics in the country,” Tedla told Christianity Today.

The Tewahedo Church is mostly concentrated in the northern ethnic regions of Amhara and Tigray, where it comprises 84 percent and 96 percent of the population, respectively. In contrast, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) where Sidama is located, only 20 percent are Orthodox while the rest are overwhelmingly Protestants. [The July/August 2019 issue of CT reported how Sidama is the center of a missions movement among Ethiopian evangelicals.]

Thus, some see the protests as possessing an ethnic dimension. Some of the signs carried by protesters bore slogans such as “church and politics are not the same,” as well as messages accusing the government of inaction, demanding that those responsible be held accountable.

“Abiy is just one man,” said Meron. “As much as he tries to wring change by the force of his personality, a lot of what is happening is longstanding. These ruptures have existed for generations.”

Protesters also denounced efforts to divide the Tewahedo church along ethnic lines. Rising tensions within Ethiopia have not only brought challenges from mobs outside the church but from within as well.

Recently, an Oromo nationalist faction within the Tewahedo church began agitating for the Orthodox to split along ethnic lines in a manner similar to the structure of the federal government, which is divided into nine zones delineated predominantly by ethnic group. Oromia is the largest of these zones, and the Oromo people are the largest ethnolinguistic group in Ethiopia, comprising approximately 34 percent of the population. The Holy Synod, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s highest council, condemned this divisiveness during emergency meetings.

Abiy’s medemer philosophy and vision for religious pluralism is visible among the protesters. Many Ethiopian Muslims and Protestants marched alongside Orthodox believers to condemn the violence. One banner, borne by members of a local mosque in Bahir Dar, showed a cross and crescent moon side by side above the message: “We are one.” Other signs bore messages of solidarity: “We stand together.”

“Sometimes people try to separate us by tribe, language, ethnicity, religion,” said Ephrem Samuel of the SIM-affiliated Kale Heywet church, who attended the protest in Bahir Dar. “But when we come together like this … it shows that we are one.”

But for many Ethiopians, vital unity is not the same as good policy. To justify his Nobel, Abiy must successfully address the nation’s many deeply-rooted challenges.

“He has made a few good starts, but until the elections we are expecting in May, we will not know how well he has done,” said Meron.

“He may be the right leader at the wrong time.”

Written by Jack Bryan for Christianity Today, he is a freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

American Pastor Still Detained in India

 ...Awaiting December Trial

Bryan Nerren
Bryan Nerren “always knew the danger” of missions in South Asia but longed to see revival in Nepal.

Each year, when Tennessee pastor Bryan Nerren delivered the closing message at a conference for Nepali Christian leaders in South Asia, he called them to persist in ministry despite the associated risk in a Hindu-dominated region sometimes hostile to their faith.

Now, Nerren, 58, is living out his sermon more than at any time in his 17 years of mission trips to South Asia, trapped in India for more than a month and prohibited from returning home following six-day imprisonment. While Indian officials charge him with failing to fill out the proper paperwork to declare the cash he was carrying, Nerren’s attorneys call the charges unjust and the detention an example of religious persecution.

Nerren, a pastor of the nondenominational International House of Prayer in Shelbyville, Tennessee, did nothing wrong and “is essentially being held hostage in India for his Christian faith,” according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the evangelical legal organization representing him. “He deserves to come home.”

Released on bail October 11 in the Indian state of West Bengal, Nerren had his passport seized by a judge while he awaits a December 12 court date. Despite backchannel work by the Trump administration and three US senators, Nerren’s family doesn’t know when he will return home.

Arrest and imprisonment

Nerren’s legal trouble began on October 5. He and two other American ministers cleared Indian customs upon arriving in New Delhi and proceeded through security to board their domestic flight to the northeast Indian city of Bagdogra to lead a conference there, the ACLJ reported. After Nerren answered questions for an hour in New Delhi about the cash he was carrying—including questions about whether the funds would be used for Christian causes—customs officials authorized him to board his flight.

But upon arrival in Bagdogra, he was arrested for allegedly not filling out a form to declare his cash. The ensuing six-day imprisonment included a trip to the hospital because of a health condition, where a physician treating Nerren spit on the ground, apparently in disgust, after learning he was a Christian.

Nerren’s wife Rhonda traveled to Washington in late October to meet with State Department officials and Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the ACLJ told Christianity Today. All officials with whom Rhonda Nerren met are “engaged” and “concerned” about her husband’s case, but no information has been released about the specific steps they are taking to secure his release.

Nerren’s son Kevin, an associate pastor at the International House of Prayer, told CT his father has “always known the danger” of ministering in India and Nepal, but he persisted because of love for the Nepali people. (His work in India was limited to the northeastern region, with a focus on its large Nepali population, and he has only ministered there “a couple of times.”)

Each fall, Bryan Nerren has traveled to Nepal to train Sunday school teachers, and each spring he has returned to lead a staff retreat for a Nepali nonprofit organization that partners with the US nonprofit Nerren established to support his mission endeavors, the Asian Children’s Education Fellowship (ACEF). According to the group’s website, ACEF has trained more than 20,000 leaders in Nepal.

“You will never have a conversation with him without his bringing up Nepal,” Kevin Nerren said of his father. In the hallways at the International House of Prayer, “there are pictures and a flag and mementos from Nepal everywhere.”

‘Revival like none other’

The danger of Nerren’s mission work stems from the fact proselytizing has been illegal in Nepal since 2017. Open Doors USA places Nepal at number 32 on its list of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.

India ranks number 10 on Open Doors USA’s persecution list, with an increase in attacks on Christians by Hindu radicals reported since the current Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014.

Despite the risk, Nerren has persisted in his work with the Nepali people because of a desire to see 1 million Christians in Nepal, Kevin Nerren said.

Official estimates put the number of believers in Nepal at about 400,000 out of a total population of 29.7 million—explosive growth since a 1951 census listed no Christians in the country. Yet Kevin Nerren believes the total number of believers is actually “well over” 1 million today, an assessment corroborated by an NPR report claiming the number Christians in Nepal could be “much higher” than officially reported and calling it “one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian populations.”

Nepal has experienced “a revival like none other,” Kevin Nerren said, recounting trips where his father has discovered thriving Christian communities in remote mountain villages. Such communities arise, he said, because Nepalese villagers go to major cities to find work, encounter the gospel there, and take it back to their villages.

Nerren’s ministry has focused on training Nepali believers in Nepal and India to share their faith and fuel that indigenous Christian movement.

If Nerren manages to get out of the region he loves, his next challenge might be getting back in as publicity surrounding his case mounts.

“His name’s probably going to be on a blacklist,” Kevin Nerren said, “especially for India, and he may not get to go to Nepal to do ministry again … He’s struggling with that a bit. But he’ll never stop loving Nepal.”

Written by
David Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

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