Dispatches From the Global Village

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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

Posted 12/8/14 at 2:23 PM | Brian Stiller

Finding the Road to Take

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 12/4/14 at 11:56 AM | Brian Stiller

What Can Be Done When “Can’t” Isn’t an Option

Who would have guessed it would be this rather modest country, Lithuania, who would be the first to push out from under the crumbling Soviet Union to declare independence? But that they did, even though the not-yet-fallen Soviet system sent in troops to try and intimidate the bold and brash who determined enough was enough.

In my visits, I’m often surprised as I discover rich and varied cultures, where histories of greatness, tragedy, sorrow and unvarnished beauty mingle. For many Evangelicals – our history begins in the 1700s – we may not take into account places where Christian faith had early beginnings. And the further one gets into the eastern regions of Europe and especially Central Asia and the Middle East, the more obscure names become and our knowledge of their Christian witness is thin at best. My interest is to awaken understanding and interest in countries and with people we may either hear nothing about, or such a myriad of ideas as to be confused. My hope in this Dispatch, as with others, is to see remarkable works of the Spirit in sparking faith, igniting the lives of people in service. FULL POST

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

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