Dispatches From the Global Village

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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

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

Finding the Road to Take: Christianity in Ukraine

Map: The World Factbook
Ukraine

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
Kazakhstan

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

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