Dispatches From the Global Village

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Posted 11/7/14 at 3:09 PM | Brian Stiller

The Church – Poland’s Cultural Glue

It is impossible not to see paw prints marking each country residing alongside the great bear. As others in the region, Poland has been somewhat shaped by her relationship to Russia.

Poland has been Christian since its founding in 966 AD. And yet it has a history of being pushed around. The Swedes swept down in the seventeenth century. After World War 1, the Paris conference restored Poland as a Second Republic. In 1919 Poland bested Lenin in the Soviet war named the “Miracle at the Vistula.” As noise of war intensified in the 1930s, on September 1, 1939 Hitler arrived to conquer, and seventeen days later the Soviets moved in. Poland, split between the two occupying armies, had to live with their overbearing presence. In 1944 it became a satellite state of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the Wall fell and the Soviet Union ceased to exist as Gorbachev released its many territories.

During the occupations, Poland sought to define its national identity, refusing to give in to either of its occupiers. While a Marxist-Leninist ideology ruled during the Soviet influence, a pastor noted that as a university student he could find none who believed it. They called themselves “radishes” – red on the outside and white on the inside. He had to take a course in Communist ideology and, like his colleagues, simply held his nose to complete the course. He reasoned that Poles would let no one tell them what to believe. In his view, stubbornness is one of their supreme and self-saving characteristics. FULL POST

Posted 11/6/14 at 4:19 PM | Brian Stiller

A Land in Need of a Rebirth

A century ago, estimates were that 25 percent of Turkey was Christian. Today it is less than 1 percent. John, in his letters of The Revelation wrote to seven cities in this land. In the last hundred years century, the ancient roots of Christian life have not only been cut off but they’ve been torn up.

Walking the winding streets of Istanbul or riding the ferry from its Asian to European side, it’s not easy to recall that before the genocide of Armenian Christians and the takeover by Islam, this city and nation were prime centers of Christian presence.

Today an Islamic government with an odd kind of secularity is poised to join the European community. Under its current president, there is movement to exert a powerful influence in the Middle East.

Turkey was the heart of the Ottoman Empire. In the late 13th century its reach spanned the Mediterranean basin – countries in southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, and North Africa, including the Horn of Africa. This Empire was intact until World War 1 when it was defeated and its lands reduced to the current Turkish borders. Most infamous of Turkey’s action in the recent past was the genocide of 1.5 Armenian Christians in the early 1900s. FULL POST

Posted 10/30/14 at 2:26 PM | Brian Stiller

Finding the Road to Take: Christianity in Ukraine

Map: The World Factbook

As I pressed the buzzer to open the door to the apartment bloc, I noticed an announcement with information on where the nearest bomb shelter was. But how could this be? It was Kiev in 2014 in the western Ukraine. People were moving about, living their lives, and yet here was a warning to protect them from what government saw as a possible attack. Ukraine, a land bordering Russia, still plays out its historic intermingling of Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe.

Now twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, those who believed the collapsed Wall of 1989 meant they were set free to become their own land and people, once again hear drumbeats reviving memories of empire.

The day the Ukrainian parliament passed a historic bill voicing determination to work with Europe, I sat with leaders of the Evangelical church, hearing their concerns and hopes. One pointed to a map and noted a large eastern region above the Crimea. “This,” he said, “is what Russia wants to take.” His lament was rooted in fear that the world would ignore this incursion because in world politics, what is denoted as “regional influence,” means that in this area Russia can do as she pleases because it is within her “region.” FULL POST

Posted 9/24/14 at 3:08 PM | Brian Stiller

Dispatch of Kazakhstan: Christianity Grows in Former Soviet Republic

Map: World Factbook

Chances are you haven’t visited this Central Asian country, or heard much about it apart from it being where Russian crews land from the space station. Much like Alberta or Montana, sweeping wheat fields kiss high-peaked mountains. Huge in land mass, the ninth largest in the world, but with a small population, this country of crisscrossing cultures and occupation has survived invasion and domination of China and the Russian world for 700 years. Today it stands at the edge of remarkable development.

Its life with and alongside Russia is one of its defining dynamics. While the country is Kazak, one-third of its people are Russian. Indigenous Kazak rub shoulders with Russian Kazak, which creates its own kind of tensions. These are not lessened by their 6,846-kilometer common border with big brother Russia on the north; in the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of Kazaks died under Stalin’s purge in the gulags of the country known as Karlags. FULL POST

Posted 8/20/14 at 1:49 PM | Brian Stiller

The Beguiling Country of Ethiopia

Traveling the ancient land of Ethiopia, one journeys through a people of many tribes and languages, landscapes, history and faiths. It is a country mystical, colorful, ancient, a land where empires of the both the ruthless and benevolent ruled.

It too is the place where the earliest of church plants occurred, in early New Testament witness. Ethiopia has experienced more than seventeen centuries of continuous Christian witness. More recently while bloodshed-soaked by an oppressive communist government, in recent decades an explosion of Christian conversion is changing the face of this beguiling country.

Here, as in other places, events critical to the advance of the Christian story happened when the Spirit took a problem and turned it into an opportunity. A young Ethiopian born in 1856, lost his father when but a lad. Raiding tribesman stole him from his mother, and after being traded four times he ended up in Massawa on the Red Sea, at a boys’ school run by the Swedish Evangelical Mission. He was converted and early expressed his desire to evangelize his Oromo people. FULL POST

Posted 7/9/14 at 11:45 AM | Brian Stiller

It Took a Bishop

As we drove with Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana north from Kigali, the undulating hills and lush green foliage and fields reminded me of a quaint and colorful Switzerland. Streets were clean; no garbage bags in sight, and no visual reminders of genocide.

My question was how this idyllic land with the friendliest of Africans could have been caught in the swirling fury of a cultural storm that within sixty days slaughtered by hand, gun, machete and fire over a million of its citizens?

In my earlier Dispatch on Rwanda. I noted that in 1959, 300,000 Tutsis had been slaughtered and hundreds of thousands fled, a tragedy repeated in more dramatic fashion in 1994 when 1,117,000 died. I had earlier thought it was tribal warfare between Hutu and Tutsi when in fact it was the result of its colonizers who had created a social distinction which in time hardened into hatred by Hutus for Tutsi. The lid from this boiling pot blew in early 1994 when a plane carrying the Rwandan president, a Hutu, was blown up. And from that a wholesale genocide erupted. FULL POST

Posted 6/9/14 at 11:42 AM | Brian Stiller

The Demonic Never Travels Solo

I bit my upper lip and peered through misty eyes as I left the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda. That this post-card perfect central African nation could have experienced a holocaust seemed impossible. Yet, there it was.

People-dehumanizing. Culture-destroying. Soul-demonizing. Life-demolishing. And all to a people whose history – prior to colonization – was a model of national harmony. In 100 days of 1994, 20 percent of all Rwandans in the country died; seventy percent of Tutsis perished.

I thought I had a reasonable hold on the why of slaughter: tribal hatred and warfare. Not unlike some neighboring countries where intra-tribal animosities had flared up in raids and killings now and then.

What stopped me cold was its history. This was not typical tribal warfare between the Hutus and Tutsis. The cause of the genocide was conflict between social classes, not ethnic groups. Yes, there had been rivalries, but nothing in Rwandan history could have predicted this savage butchery. FULL POST

Posted 5/17/14 at 5:14 PM | Brian Stiller

An Untold Story Behind Mandela

Nelson Mandela

I stood in the cell where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven imprisoned years. While it now appeared unremarkable, it still seemed somewhat hallowed. As we walked about Robben Island, just off the South African coast near Cape Town, I tried to imagine Mandela’s feelings and to hear his many conversations with colleagues of the African National Congress (ANC). There must have been a sense of futility mingled with hope for their cause.

The transition from white minority power over both the black and colored majority is a story like none other. A political system called apartheid had evolved through the early years of the twentieth century and came to full bloom in the 1960s. As its laws became more repressive and absurd, Mandela led the underground resistance and was eventually convicted by the white courts, as were many of his ANC associates. As the resistance grew to rebellion, the government finally realized that the laws needed changing and they eventually consulted Mandela while in prison. They promised his soon release and general elections to be held in 1994. FULL POST

Posted 3/10/14 at 10:43 AM | Brian Stiller

Haiti, a Place of Wide Gaps

Few countries display such extremes, from pervasive poverty to stores with most anything one could want; from literacy rates of fifty-five percent to the well educated; from curious and troubling religious practices to the inspirational and rigorous.

Haiti can be breathtaking in its beauty, yet troubling in its squalor. Less than a two-hour flight from south Florida, this country with African roots defies adequate description and self-evident reasons for its struggles and conditions. To understand Haiti, it must be felt.

Its long history includes one of the most astonishing military feats in history. In 1803, its ragtag army, kicking out Napoleon’s military, was the first army of its kind to successfully defeat a colonial power.

Of course, its recent history of brutal dictatorship—from Doc Duvalier to Papa Doc—stigmatized this Caribbean country; and even today, while ruled by an elected government, its ability to operate as a democracy is fragile.

The cataclysmic earthquake of 2010 ripped open the earth, toppling buildings and resulting in the death of a quarter million. Then as Haiti was lifting itself up by its bootstraps, two years later Cyclone Isaac blew its monstrous wind and deluge of rain, destroying much that had been rebuilt. FULL POST

Posted 2/6/14 at 11:52 AM | Brian Stiller

Dispatch From the Czech Republic

Church in Prague

The “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 ended 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, transforming it into a parliamentary republic. Václav Havel, a hero and playwright was installed as president of this country that chose to divide into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This nonviolent overthrow was remarkable in Communist history. Responding to a half million demonstrating in Prague, this city of inspiring spires and castles, preserved from WWII bombings, began to rebuild but at real cost.

The Czech and Slovak societies have inherited two anti Christian movements: the anticlerical 1928 nationalist uprising and the communist takeover in the 1940s, which pushed the church underground. Compounding that is the legacy of corruption inherited from former regimes. This accepted bureaucratic hands-in-the-till mentality was more recently challenged when a Christian public servant took on the establishment.

Libor Michalek refused to do as instructed by his masters and instead exposed an embezzlement scheme. When he refused to exploit the public purse for political gain, the minister said, “Destroy it or it will destroy you.” When he then informed the Interior Minister that it was against his Christian convictions he was told he was on his own. Even journalists were afraid to pick up the story. Eventually it broke, and with taped messages vindicating the authenticity of his claims, it eventually landed in court (2010) where it has stalled. But not before he became a household name. Today Michalek serves as a senator, his Evangelical faith intact and his public witness unfiltered. FULL POST

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