Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As it may be for you, December is the busiest time of the year for most of our leaders. In some cases, this year’s celebrations and outreaches will be a welcome return to traditions that could not take place in the same way in 2020. In Bhutan, for example, a common prayer request is for Christmas outreaches missionaries are planning, especially for children. On the other hand, in Myanmar, in the midst of civil war due to the military coup, Pastor Thang* says, “Christians are encouraged not to decorate and celebrate Christmas this year [openly]. Instead, just pray for the people and their safety, and help other needy people who suffer and lost their loved ones.”
Whether traditional or not, all of our leaders ask for prayer for their ministries in this season of increased awareness of Jesus. Because of your generosity this year, we are able to give additional funds to several of our country directors to allocate for their Christmas outreach and service programs.
This first week of Advent, as I am writing this letter, I was on calls with Jesus Film, confirming that we would be receiving key technology for over 50 leaders to be able to utilize the Jesus Film and other discipleship materials in local languages in Bangladesh in 2022. I had the joy of talking with our India, Kashmir, and Bangladesh leaders about pastoral training and discipleship programs especially meant to encourage and train believers facing persecution that we are able to fund early in the new year. Our US staff, along with our Nepal leadership, had an online planning meeting with a non-profit we began partnering with this year who will be coming alongside and then expanding existing community saving groups run through our church networks in Nepal. Already, these groups led by our leaders have transformed several communities in Nepal – a perfect combination of sharing the Gospel in both word and deed. I learned of an upcoming baptism program for dozens of newly discipled believers in Bangladesh. I was able to tell several leaders in India that we had received the funding they needed to purchase thousands of new Bibles in the new year – needed more than ever, considering the many new believers who were reached through Covid-19 relief programs.
Thinking about these Bibles, even though I’ve been with this ministry for a decade, I am still amazed by how much can be done with a dollar – on average, $6 purchases a Bible in a person’s heart language, and covers the logistical costs of getting that Bible where it needs to go. Although we don’t typically support building projects, $100 helped complete a church roof in northern India this week – the rest of the funds having been donated by the local believers. In November, $2,000 in Bihar, India covered the costs of a three-day discipleship conference, including meals, travel and lodging, to encourage and prepare 30 new believers from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds who face persecution and great challenges as some of the only followers of Jesus in their communities. For all of our relief programs, between $40-$120 feeds a family for a month. Your giving of any amount makes a deep impact in the hands of our leaders in South Asia and Myanmar.
Also in this first week of Advent, I received the news that the son of our leader in Rajasthan, India was in a motorcycle accident on December 1st. By the 3rd, I had received the message from Pastor Thomas* that his dear son Shalom had died. Then on the 4th, we received the news that our Sri Lanka leader Pastor Suhas’s* wife, Ghadah*, had passed away after a month-long illness. Throughout the week, like most weeks since February of this year, I prayed through and responded to messages of bombings and forced displacements happening in the towns of our pastors and missionaries in Myanmar. I exchanged messages with leaders in Nepal and parts of India about increased government-led persecution, and how it would impact how we send funds. I received heartbreaking photos of destruction due to late season flooding in southern India.
This first week of Advent is a small taste of all of 2021, for me personally and for our leaders throughout South Asia and Myanmar. The encouraging – huge answers to prayer, increased interest in the Gospel, incredible support from you – individuals, churches, and other organizations who support Harvest Bridge. The hard – constant tragic loss of life, wartime violence and fear, increased poverty, and persecution. In this year especially, a passage of Scripture I come back to over and over, whether I’m preaching it, praying it or sending it to a grieving leader, is Hebrews 4:14-16.
We have a great high priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses, who understands our struggles and sorrows intimately. Jesus not only came to earth as a baby, but came in exceedingly difficult circumstances. Born to a woman pregnant before marriage, forced to go into hiding for the first couple years of His life, raised in a derided town, rejected by much of His family and hometown, and of course, who bore unimaginable physical and spiritual pain on the cross. So, in this Advent season, if you, like me and so many of our leaders throughout South Asia, are celebrating the joyous birth of our Savior while grieving deeply the very things that brought Him to earth, know that Jesus welcomes you to come with confidence to His throne.
I asked Pastor Jairaj* (many of you know him by his real name, but out of an abundance of caution, we will use his pseudonym), our India director and the South Asian co-founder of Harvest Bridge, what he was emphasizing during Christmas this year. He almost instantaneously messaged me this: “The main subject is Jesus was born to bear all our sorrows and difficulties.” He then expounded and shared the poignant message below, which I’ll leave you with. But first – thank you! You have faithfully supported and prayed for this ministry through the hills and valleys of this year. Along with all of our leaders, I am profoundly thankful.
Rejoicing in Him,