Dispatches From the Global Village

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Posted 3/29/16 at 7:46 AM | Brian Stiller

It's Not as Hopeless as It Seems

We stood at the dividing line of North and South Korea, the 38th Parallel. North Korean soldiers, ramrod stiff, peered at us through binoculars as we looked from the south side of the border to North Korea, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: DPRK.

I knew that somewhere above the dividing line was a Canadian pastor, 60-year-old Hyeon Soo Lim, serving a life sentence of hard labor. Pastor Lim is senior pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a suburb just west of Toronto. I had met Pastor Lim when I served as president of Tyndale University College & Seminary, because some of his parishioners attended the school.

After a hundred visits to North Korea, helping to establish a caring ministry for people in need, Pastor Lim for no explainable reason was arrested in February 2015, and in December was sentenced to hard labor by the North Korean Supreme Court. They labeled his offense, “ Crimes against the state.” FULL POST

Posted 1/27/16 at 8:04 PM | Brian Stiller

ISIS- Composite

What it is
ISIS (Daesh)* is a flowering thorn attached to a stem and rooted in a life-sustaining soil. ISIS is the bloom; an extremist messianic Wahhabism (Salafism) is the stem; a longing to return to radical Islamic tradition, to expel Western influence from the Middle East, and to launch global Islamic rule is its soil. To mix metaphors: “Daesh [ISIS] has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex.”**

To say ISIS is not Islamic is disingenuous. But to tar all of Islam, and therefore Muslims, with this brush is like saying that Northern Ireland’s Protestant/Roman Catholic war represents all Christians or that Buddhist conflict in Sri Lanka or Myanmar is a sample of all Buddhists.

However, what is not understood is that ISIS’ roots reach back to the mid 1700s, from which emerged al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and ISIS in Iraq in 2006. Today we live with news of violence on a grand scale and are horrified by its rise to global prominence. ISIS is both notorious and mystifying. Most Muslims too are scandalized by this vicious and bloodthirsty mob, bewildered by its expansion, and unsure of its future. FULL POST

Posted 1/27/16 at 12:37 PM | Brian Stiller

Human Tidal Wave

The twin engine plane banked to the left, as we skirted the beach and lined up for the island runway. Something bright and orange caught my eye. It was a life jacket on the beach, not just one but thousands upon thousands, littering the beaches of the Greek island of Lesbos.

[A little New Testament history: The harbor of Mitylene Lesbos is where Paul the apostle landed when he sailed from Assos Turkey, just a few kilometers across the Aegean Sea (Acts 20:14).

Nik Nedelchev and I traced the refugee highway from its point of arrival – beginning on the Greek island Lesbos, just a few kilometers across the Aegean Sea from Turkey – up through Greece, the Balkans and into central Europe. We had already visited Iraq, Syrian refugee camps in northern Jordan, Syrians and Iraqis in the Bekka Valley on the Lebanon/Syrian border and Turkey. But here in Greece the arterial system that carried a million refugees just this year (2015) was clogged and was suffering an uncertain future. As part of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Nik and I knew it mattered that we walk their roads, bearing witness to ministries alleviating suffering and serving as a window on this escalating human tragedy. FULL POST

Posted 11/30/15 at 10:19 AM | Brian Stiller

Following Christ Together

Jesus promised us we would face persecution. Killings, discrimination, persecution come with the cross.

When a Christian is beheaded, thrown in a cage, doused with gas and then set aflame, or when a family is rooted out, threatened with “convert, pay tax, be killed or leave,” Christians quickly come to their defense.

Heroic Christian faith has left blood spattered across the pages of history. Today we are more sensitized by human rights legislation, by instant access to news, and by the ferocious means by which Christians are being assaulted, especially in the face of Islamic forms of terror.

We met in Albania, a country so recently led by a harsh and atheistic dictator who from 1967 to 1991 disallowed any religious meeting, worship, text or discussion. While some died for their faith, the main form of persecution was to deny participation in worship.

Driven by the excesses of Islamic jihad, Christians within global communions have begun to relate to each other as never before in our 2000-year history. The Global Christian Forum hosted our November 2015 event with members from Eastern Orthodox churches, Roman Catholics, the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Pentecostal Fellowship, and the World Council of Churches. The telling conference theme was, “Following Christ Together.” FULL POST

Posted 11/6/15 at 10:40 AM | Brian Stiller

Bulgaria: An Historic Land

Bulgaria is a country hidden from our main stream of attention. Yet even with its rich and troubled history, Bulgaria’s Christian community is resilient, modeling Spirit-risking adventures of a witness of faith in living and loving with others.

Bulgaria, with its population of fewer than 8 million, is located in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe; like Albania, it was under Ottoman rule for 500 years (Muslim Turks). The Ottomans turned churches into mosques, and if a church wanted its own building, it couldn’t be above ground. This Slavic country has a natural affinity to Russia whose king in 1877 defeated the Ottomans. But like other countries in the region, the 20th century was not kind: Balkan wars took up part of the first decades of the century with a dictatorship until 1943.

What came as a surprise to outsiders was its handling of its Jewish community. When Hitler pressured Bulgaria to purge their country of Jews, sending them to extermination camps, Bulgaria said “No.” Today there is an understandable pride: as one person said, “Not one Bulgarian Jew lost his life to the genocide of the Holocaust.” The government passed a law forbidding anyone with a Bulgarian passport to be sent to the camps. FULL POST

Posted 10/27/15 at 7:59 AM | Brian Stiller

Amazing Peace in the Region of Iraq

As I walked toward the meeting hall, several impressive young Iraqis looked my way with smiles of welcome. It was not what I expected for a white-haired male in his 70s, meeting them for the first time. Their hospitality and open reception surprised me because young people are often self-conscious around strangers.

Their country, Iraq, was vulgarized by despot Saddam Hussein, brutalized by the 2003 invasion, and traumatized by intra-Islamic terror. To Westerners Iraq seems a confusing mixture of a failed military incursion, massive killings, ISIS beheadings, and corruption. As we flew into Erbil, the Kurdistan province in the northeast, I was astounded by the large, new and efficient terminal, by its clean streets and modern buildings. People were moving about seemingly unconcerned that just thirty minutes west ISIS was very much in control. I blinked twice to remind myself where I was.

In today’s configuration Iraq as a country is a creation of the past century. In the early 20th century, post WWI negotiations by the League of Nations carved up the Ottoman Empire to create what we now call Iraq. Yet this land has an enormous history—just down the road is the ancient city of Nineveh. Iraq is home to ancient civilizations from the 6th century BC and contains the biblical Garden of Eden. Names of cities and peoples here remind one of Old Testament stories about Babylon, Chaldea, the Sumerians and Assyria. FULL POST

Posted 10/23/15 at 11:59 AM | Brian Stiller

African Church Leaders Taking Hold

Africa, the “dark” continent brought to light by missionary David Livingston, stretches from the Mediterranean in the north to the mixing of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans in the south. Soon to be 1.2 billion, its varied cultures, peoples, religions and economic successes mixed with disasters, is a place of exotic beauty, barren wastelands and many peoples with a loving and inviting disposition.

I visited with pastors and Evangelicals leaders of 33 of its 62 nations in Harare Zimbabwe at the General assembly of the African Evangelical Alliance. Called together under the theme, “Living the Lordship of Christ,” stories were told of the multitude of challenges and opportunities facing the witness of Christ today.

Today, two out of ten Christians in the world reside here. In 1970 (its population then 366 million), 142 million or 38.7% were Christians. Fifty years later (estimates for 2020) out of 1,278 billion in Africa 50% or 630 million will confess Christian faith. In 50 years that’s an explosive growth, expanding from 142 million to 630 million Christians. FULL POST

Posted 10/21/15 at 10:17 AM | Brian Stiller

Life in an Earthquake Zone

The ride to the border of Tibet was long, rough and dangerous as we crawled up the winding mountains roads. During a nine-hour return drive of 100 kilometers, we passed through villages strung out along the mountain road; some were vacant and soulless. In some the people had died, crushed by the falling timber and rocks. In other villages the inhabitants had picked up what they could, leaving for places they thought more safe in Nepal.

The 7.8 earthquake on April 25 brought its destructive force to unsuspecting people. The shaking of ground, rattling of dishes and swaying of buildings was felt right across this landlocked nation of 30 million. Yet its most powerful and destructive force seemed to spew its fury in occasional places.

Katmandu, thought to be under massive siege, was more preserved than at first assumed. Historical sites, religious symbols and buildings toppled, but the worst of the force was felt in regions often inaccessible except by helicopter.

To date 9,000 have died, tens of thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands are without homes or protection. FULL POST

Posted 3/17/15 at 10:56 AM | Brian Stiller

The Way Back

Brutalized by wars of nationhood, guerilla chaos, landowners’ paramilitary bands along with government armies, Colombia still travels a road of social upheaval. Long known in recent years for its brutal and controlling drug cartels, Colombia is now on a road to recovery. In observing that recovery I unearthed an interesting story of one who faced guerillas in his own backyard, defending those of faith.

Colombia is not for the faint of heart. Its inner complexities and religious unevenness is part of its fabric, and the conflict was not just because of the cartels. As in many countries with a religious majority, often the minority faces unusual and unfair practices. This was true in Colombia and has been in part corrected.

To understand the stories that follow, a brief explanation of terms and groups will help. To the outsider Colombia seems like a snake pit of armed conspiracies and factions. FARC, the Marxist group, presses a leftist political agenda and, like their enemies, is armed to the teeth. Priests espousing Liberation Theology formed the ELN which is much less predisposed to arms. Those in M19 were followers of former president Gustavo Rojas Inilla. Paramilitary groups were set up by right wing capitalists to protect their investments. Cartels are mixed up in all the groups as they use, produce, and sell drugs to help fund their activities. FULL POST

Posted 3/11/15 at 4:29 PM | Brian Stiller

Venezuela, On the Edge of Collapse

I sat looking into the brown eyes of a beautiful twenty-one-year-old university student, Sairam. Her face was framed by dark long hair; she folded her hands and quietly said in English, “Dr. Brian, we are sitting on a time bomb.”

 Just out of six months in Helicoide Prison for her public protest against the government, this fourth-year student had been squeezed into a small cell with five other students. Because there were only two small cots, they had to take turns sleeping.

 Venezuela, a beautiful country with natural resource of enormous magnitude, is any day on the verge of collapse. The yo-yo effect of its huge oil reserves has contributed to a series of bizarre social and economic experiments, which could push the country over the economic edge. In the government’s anxiety to control, its Marxist-minded political establishment has made it into what is akin to a police state. I was told that when I preached in churches and spoke in various social forums and interviews, I would be observed. Who was I? Why was I here? What harm might I do? These and other questions were being asked. FULL POST

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