Dispatches From the Global VillageTweet
Posted 11/12/13 at 9:22 AM | Brian Stiller |
It seems unlikely that an imposing former professional British football (soccer) player would end up as a social worker. And even more unlikely, is that he would be appointed by the Chinese government to help solve one of their most pressing problems – over a million orphans left on streets or languishing in countless orphanages. Not only has Robert Glover led in placing 250,000 Chinese orphans in Chinese homes in the last few years, he has signed an agreement with the King of Thailand to do the same there. His story tells of the mystical and sure guidance of the Holy Spirit in building out of personal gifting and skill to solve a seemingly intractable problem in places where we assume the name of Christ is unknown.
Posted 10/31/13 at 2:11 PM | Brian Stiller |
It was the 1960s. Teenagers in Rome were as much into psychedelic music, mind-tripping drugs and hippy music as they were in LA or London. But not all. Countering the counter-culture, a group of young people in Rome eschewed the activities of their friends and sought a closer walk with Christ. Hungry for learning of the Bible, in quest for meaningful prayer and convinced that caring for the poor was a Christian mandate, they began to form around able and critical thinker Andrea Riccardi, himself then only in his teens.
Today the Community of Sant’Egidio has spread its influence and ministry to many in several countries, numbering some 70,000 as associates. It is made up of professionals who believe personal conversion is a beginning step to this walk of faith. It is not a religious order and being Roman Catholic is not a requirement, although most members are. They sign no covenant and make no explicit promises but all understand that daily prayer, Bible study and regular time spent with the marginalized and poor are what makes them as persons and communities vital in their walk with Christ and effective in their witness to the life of the Gospel. FULL POST
Posted 10/22/13 at 2:29 PM | Brian Stiller |
Tucked into southeast Europe, just across the Adriatic from Italy lies Albania, strung out along a mountainous coastline, unknown and unremarkable to most except for its post WWII declaration that it would be Atheistic: no religion allowed. Brutal. Harsh. Demanding. It was more than Communist in economic and social policy. Dictator Enver Hoxha prided himself on following Stalin. But he went further, declaring that anything religious would be outlawed. Churches, Mosques, Synagogues were demolished or turned into everything from barns to factories, making neighboring Communist dictator Tito of Yugoslavia seem like a saint. Few countries compared except North Korea.
Beyond persecution, belief in any religion was made illegal. That illegality ruled society. Creating within the culture a pragmatic, utilitarian, browbeaten people whose values rested uneasily on the quick sand of fear in being loyal to the state. The vacuum of its ideology held this historic community suspended between the absolute control of its president and a heartfelt desire to believe.
I sat with widow Elona Prroj in downtown Tirana’s Stephen café run by Christian entrepreneurs and listened to a story of which, in my initial meeting I had no warning. Blood chilling and bizarre, yet magisterial in its biblical vision. FULL POST
Posted 10/21/13 at 12:27 PM | Brian Stiller |
It wasn’t an unexpected visit, so when the secret police arrived asking for Paul Negrut, he knew his time had come. Others of his Christian friends had been swept up in the nets of Ceaușescu’s minions. Paul knew that for him it was just a matter of time.
It was in the 1980s, when the harsh heel of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu held its ruthless rule over the people of Romania. Rising to power in 1965, he modeled his regime after Stalin, creating the infamous Securitate, imposing control, surveillance and dominance from 1965 to 1989. It was considered the most repressive regime in Europe. Finally during the revolutionary days of 1989, after he ordered his troops to fire on crowds gathered in Timisoara, they revolted, and he and his wife were shot as they tried to flee.
Since Paul served as a pastor, it wouldn’t be long before the police would pick him up. He was sent to a concentration camp rather than a prison so officials could avoid the annoyance of having to lay charges and completing his documents.
Paul, previously a clinical psychologist, had spent six years working in the local hospital but in time decided his real love was to serve as a pastor. In time he left the hospital and became minister of a Baptist church in Oradea. FULL POST
Posted 9/9/13 at 10:38 AM | Brian Stiller |
Life began for me on the Canadian prairies in a Pentecostal parsonage (manse). Along with four siblings I knew I was loved. Only as I began school did I feel the snub of peers: our church was seen as different. Often called "Holy Rollers" being Pentecostal in the 1940s and 50s meant you were on the wrong side of the cultural fence.
I lived comforted by the strength of family and friends and made bold by understanding that Christ, by his Spirit was in us. In it all I was made wiser and stronger.
These thoughts wound their way through moments of reflection during the World Pentecostal Conference in Kuala Lumpur this August.
My point of view is mixed: this continues to be my church home in which I was ordained for the ministry in 1968. However my vocational life has been spent within three non-denominational communities, which makes me both an insider and outsider. With that duality, here is my Dispatch.
It’s a curious and rowdy bunch. Starting off in 1905, led by a black preacher William J Seymour, at a converted stable on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, today the aggregate numbers of Pentecostals in their various denominational and charismatic stripes number around a quarter of a billion. FULL POST
Posted 9/2/13 at 9:26 AM | Brian Stiller
News of Christians being given the boot in Muslim countries tends to override stories of remarkable opportunity, overshadowed instead by Muslim religion and politics, .
Malaysia, an elongated land mass fingering down from the Indo-China peninsula to the city state of Singapore, is a complex grouping of peoples and religions: Malay 70%, Indian 5%, Indigenous peoples 5%, Chinese 20%. Like Indonesia it is predominantly Muslim, so much so that the government makes popular its assumption that to be ethnic Malay one is automatically Muslim and if Muslim then Malay. Fixed in its statutes are regulations that make it unlawful to evangelize a Malay, and if a Malay chooses to convert, there is a protocol through which they must go to complete their conversion. The risks are so great that churches if holding an event outside of their church building must alert anyone reading that the event is a Christian event.
We were startled by the news on January 2010 that an Assemblies of God church had been burned to the ground. A breaking point in the struggle for Christians to operate with freedom, the catastrophe was turned to opportunity. Pastor Ong Sek Leang led me through the build up to what ended in his church lying in ashes. FULL POST
Posted 7/10/13 at 5:52 PM | Brian Stiller |
In a previous Dispatch, I identified the remarkable yet difficult terrain of Christian life in a Communist police state such as Vietnam. Tough and often unyielding, the government allows scattered opportunities for faith to sprout, yet at will denies religious freedom.
The week I met with the Ministry of Public Security an Australian evangelist, Nick Vujicic, had been speaking at stadium-filled rallies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City. As in so many other places, the Spirit works in ways surprising even to the most optimistic.
How did this come about?
It began with Le Phuoc Vu, a devout Buddhist; chair of a business group called Hoa Sen who partnered with First News and Vietnam Television (VTV) and was supported by others for this May event. (It’s important to note that the Vietnamese government owns the media.) As Reg Reimer * noted, sources, "close to the situation said that beside Mr. Vu, one of Vietnam’s wealthiest tycoons, an influential Catholic layman and a Communist Party official were the key initiators. If there were evangelical Christians behind it, they have chosen to remain very low key. " FULL POST
Posted 6/28/13 at 5:08 PM | Brian Stiller |
We arrived in Vietnam -- one of only five remaining socialistic dictatorships ruled by Communist ideology, circumscribed by its assumptions and demands. However my reading had not prepared me for what I saw and was to learn.
Vietnam is a country of surprising contradictions. Made infamous by wars with the French and Americans I was accustomed to the American’s view (remember I was a student in in the ‘60s/‘70s) that their strategy, called the “domino theory”, was to prevent Chinese and Vietnamese from extending communist rule throughout South East Asia. I also assumed it is a country where the Gospel is driven underground by a repressive Communist government. I found it is and isn’t.
My first stereotype was shattered when outside of Ho Chi Minh City -- still called by many “Saigon” – we were taken to the campus of the Biblical and Theological Institute of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam South (ECVN/S) -- a denomination still often called “C&MA” (Christian and Missionary Alliance). I looked around and saw to the left a multi story main building for classes and administration for 150 students. To the right a 7-story student residence with a second under construction. In front a 3,000-seat church also under construction. All in a Communist country which continues to enforce unpredictable and contradicting laws. FULL POST
Posted 6/13/13 at 10:38 AM | Brian Stiller
Dispatch from Laos
Visiting countries with recent histories of violence, dictatorships and war, I watch in amazement as people continue to live in hope even with the continuing residue of single-party governments and dominant religions or atheism. These are complex realities, which if described to an outside world without extensive explanation, might lead to a distortion. And more importantly, creating hardship for those in ministry on the ground.
In my brief time as global ambassador, I’ve learned to test what I say before it goes public. My role, in part, is to discern the footprints of the Spirit, not to be an investigative reporter. Those who know more about what is going on than what I note, will understand often discretion conditions candor.
Now to my Dispatch on Laos.
The Laos Peoples Democratic Republic is one of five remaining socialist states run by a single party with a distinctly communist heritage and ruling ideology: China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea. A country, the size of Minnesota, squeezed in between Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), China and Cambodia, is part of South East Asia.
What makes this country one-of-a-kind for Evangelicals is that its Protestant community is grouped by law under one denomination called the Laos Evangelical Church. It was formed in 1956 and in 1960 given legal status by the previous government. From 1975 to 1990 it had little outside contact, as Laos remained a “closed” country. In 1990 that changed and the LEC was given what has up to now been a proprietorship for all Protestant denominations. FULL POST
Posted 5/28/13 at 12:25 PM | Brian Stiller |
It was a two hour drive north of the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The first hour was fine, then backroads, mud holes and wandering cattle. As we drove, Reaksa described the field where his family spent their first night in 1975. Driven by the newly rising communist party the Khmer Rouge, with only three days of food, they were forced to find a place to sleep out in a field. Over the next weeks, because his father was a teacher, the family of seven were forced-marched, eventually ending in the town of Kokpreach.
We drove into town, stopping first at the school Reaksa had built out of profits from his first book, “The Tears of My Soul.” Then we slowly drove down the only road, houses on each side, curious eyes staring out from houses on stilts, built in order to escape from monsoon floods. (We call him Reaksa. His full name is Sokreaksa Himm.)
I wanted to visit this village with this young man whom I had come to know while serving as president of Tyndale. Reaksa had landed in Canada and ended up doing his undergraduate studies at Tyndale, then moving on to Providence near Winnipeg to complete his masters.
“The killing fields” of Cambodia ring as foreboding as “The ovens” of Auschwitz. In four years -- 1975-79 -- three million Cambodians were killed, with many dying from starvation. The educated and city dwellers were “re-educated,” forced into the countryside to work as manual laborers, much like the Red Guard did to professionals and urban dwellers in China under Mao. A taxi driver told us of his family. When asked how long he was forced to live apart from his parents, he recited, “Three years, six months, twenty days.” FULL POST