Categories
Stories

Pray for the Persecuted 2020: Kashmir

Thank you for joining us in prayer for the persecuted church in South Asia each weekend of November, in a continuation of International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (November 1st)! We pray the stories and wisdom shared by our country leaders have been an encouragement and challenge in your own walk with God. 

This final weekend of November, we share from leaders Sarah* and Pastor Peter* in Kashmir.

Kashmir has a long and complicated history, and we encourage you to learn more about this region! 

Since 1947-48, when the newly-independent nations of India and Pakistan fought their first war over which country the Muslim-majority princely state of Kashmir would accede to, the portion of Kashmir controlled by India has been governed according to Article 370 of India’s constitution. Article 370 granted Kashmir substantial political and economic autonomy. However, in August 2019 India unexpectedly revoked Article 370 and placed Kashmir on strict lockdown to quell protests against the unpopular move. Due to years of militant insurgency and protest against Indian occupation, Kashmir is no stranger to curfews, internet blackouts and economic shutdown – but the lockdown starting in August 2019 became the longest on record, and just as it was beginning to be eased the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Kashmir is divided into three regions. Jammu is majority Hindu, Ladakh is majority Buddhist, and the Kashmir valley is majority Muslim. Sarah, Pastor Peter, and the other pastors and missionaries we support are working in the Kashmir valley. All but Sarah come from Muslim backgrounds, and so are well equipped to reach their staunchly religious community with the love of Jesus. They also know the dangers they face in following Jesus. 

Sarah was a nominal Christian until her second daughter was miraculously born healthy after she and her husband were told their baby would die. It was then that she and her husband rededicated their lives to Christ. In the last two years, Sarah’s husband Mohan* has been forcibly taken back to his Muslim family, leaving Sarah do ministry and raise their daughters alone for now.

Pastor Peter*, whose birth name is Mohammad, describes his family’s reaction to him following Jesus, 

“When my other family members, friends and relatives came to know about my faith in Christ, they became furious and started treating me like a dog. They often provoked me, stating that I had adopted the ‘English religion’. Though I was treated harshly, I did not give up the faith, but wished to win my people for Christ.”

Both Sarah and Pastor Peter have wisdom born of experience and intimacy with the Lord. 

Sarah begins,

“‘That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:10)

As you may know, it is 99% Muslim orthodox in our Kashmir. In Islamic jurisprudence no other religion is allowed to preach, and if any Muslim wants to change his religion they kill that person, as the punishment of apostasy in Islam is death. Lots of people want to accept Christ, but due to persecution they remain silent. 

But many people throughout the Kashmir valley accept Jesus as their personal saviour without fear of persecution that they will face. They always get ready to accept the persecution for the cause of Jesus Christ. Many of our brothers in Christ were beaten publicly, many were thrown out of their villages, many were imprisoned for months, many were dragged into courts and some were killed by militants. But by the grace of God no one lost their faith in Christ due to this persecution. In spite of all this, we all are becoming more firm in faith. We need to use wisdom to share the Gospel by the help of Lord Jesus Christ.

I request to you all to please pray for all of us who are sharing the Gospel message in this challenging state, that God gives us more strength and courage to face these challenges and help us in our difficulties.

Kashmir is a Muslim region, and Muslims believe that Jesus is just a human being and not divine. The belief that Jesus is the son of God and is God himself is considered the greatest sin according to the Quran. Also, Muslims believe that the present Bible is corrupted and distorted. This is the reason Muslims hate Christianity and don’t want the spread of the Gospel in Kashmir. 

According to the Bible, it is our pleasure to face persecution so that we will be like our Lord Jesus Christ and become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’ (Mathew 5:10)

‘In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ (2 Timothy 3:12)

Being persecuted for faith is totally different than facing opposition for other reasons, because persecution for faith brings God’s grace and blessings in our spiritual life – we will become more strong in faith and we experience our Lord Jesus Christ’s love more. We might lose our material things, but we become more close to the Kingdom of God… We are not people of this world but the people of the Kingdom of God. As our Lord Jesus Christ faced persecution, we also need to face persecution.”

Building on what Sarah shared, Pastor Peter adds,

“‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.’ (Romans 12:14)

Thank you my brothers and sisters who are praying for our fellowship – that God may keep us safe in the midst of Muslims while preaching the Gospel to them, so that we can stand firm in our faith on Jesus Christ. Pray that God may grant us grace and anointing to preach and teach about the victorious Christian life in the midst of persecution.

The motivation during persecution comes from when we go through the Bible and see examples like Stephen’s speech in Acts 6 & 7. Stephen spoke with wisdom and spirit – they put him to death on a charge of blasphemy.

In 2015 was the third time that I was persecuted and put in jail. It was a case of blasphemy, and the Mullahs put three false accusations on me. One, that when I converted a Muslim I put a seal of the cross on their back. Two, that I feed pig’s blood in church services (during the Lord’s Supper). Three, that I give or provide jobs to young Muslim men and women to make them Christians.

When a Muslim accepts Christ, it causes people to think and then they start to persecute the new believer. They cut off all the shares of the new believers’ property. They tell new believers to leave the community. They create problems and persecute us. We have so many lived stories of how they persecute our believers in Christ. 

Being persecuted for faith is the test of God from which we experience the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, but facing opposition for other reasons doesn’t give us any benefit.

Our master Jesus Christ says, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’ (Matthew 10:28). I have a message to all my brothers and sisters who are facing persecution: 

‘Do not be afraid, as in the book of Acts early Christians were persecuted through isolation, attack, betrayals, imprisonment, and even death all around the world. My prayer is for suffering Christians; my brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not alone. The worldwide church is standing with you and praying for you.'”

Sarah & Pastor Peter

*Names changed for safety

Categories
Stories

Pray for the Persecuted 2020: Bangladesh & Bhutan

This fourth weekend of November, we once again share the wisdom of some of our country leaders on persecution, building on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 1st. This week, Pastor Darpan* who leads our Bangladesh ministry and Pastor Jagan* who leads the ministry in Bhutan give their insight.

Open Doors ranks Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country, as 31st on the World Watch List, which lists the top 50 countries with the greatest persecution of Christians. Read more here

In our pastors’ and missionaries’ experience, persecution primarily comes on a local level and not from the government. Physical and emotional attacks most often come from family and community members when a Muslim, Hindu, or Animist begins following Jesus. For the men and women we support, persecution is more common for them than other Christians in the country because they are openly sharing the Gospel as pastors and missionaries.

Pastor Darpan*, a humble and kind servant of God, oversees a Bangladeshi network of over fifty pastors and dozens more missionaries. He says,

“In general, persecution is happening or has come here mostly from the Muslim extremists, a very few times from Hindus, and also in very rare cases by others. According to their religious thoughts and thinking, they are prideful and arrogant, not honoring others who they cannot tolerate. The extremist Muslim believers are trying to stop others, dominating their religious power everywhere. The pride and jealousy of the extremists makes them do bad works and persecute. They hate Jesus/Christians and do not want Christianity to rise here because of their arrogance. They are afraid of Christians, that if the Christian religion exists beside them, then their believers’ numbers will be reduced. They believe Muslim faith is the best out of all religions. This motivates them.

According to our mission to implement the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, we prioritize verse 20, to teach, make disciples and baptize. But because of our country and communities, I always encourage them to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves according to Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” So, maintaining our own safety first is most essential, and then approach with kindness and love…

Pastor Akash*, who I work with, shares what he and another missionary, Sukesh*, experienced last month, which shows this:

“In this pandemic situation, Mr. Sukesh and I went out three or four times a week. In this area, extremists (Muslim) people were watching us and our activities. One day, suddenly, when we were returning to our home, some of the old Muslim people questioned us about where we are returning from. We told them that we were returning from a nearby remote town. When they checked our bags, they found some Bible tracts, small Gospel flipcharts, and a small Bible. They said we had not told the truth to them. They asked us if these were our evangelical tools or materials we have taken to preach. Then, we told them “Yes, but we preached amongst our believers. So, what is it to you?” Very suddenly, one of the aged men slapped us and chased us from there.

After a month, when we were going out in the morning to another village by bicycle, one of the old extremists found and called us with a loving voice. Just as before, we went to him. That man begged pardon because of their act a month ago, saying it was totally inhuman and unreasonable, and illogical. Because of this, his heart was burning to beg pardon from us.

We became shocked to hear about this. As an aged man, we told him that the Christian religion is to forgive like our Lord Jesus who forgave all our sins, and to bow our hearts in surrender, and then Jesus is almighty to forgive. And we are here to teach all the people about my Jesus. Now that man has become our good guardian and friend. Thanks to the Lord, and we are thankful for His love.”

We are thankful to the Lord, and also for our prayer fighters who have been praying continuously for safety for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution. Endure to see His face. We would like to say to continue your powerful prayers, which are our only strength.”

Open Doors puts Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas, at 45th on its list. You can read their summary here

Although persecution is not often physical, pressure from the government and police leads to believers often being refused land rights, being taken to prison overnight, and having their children’s names taken off the census, rendering them unabl to access basic services. Pastor Jagan* leads a group of nearly 30 Bhutanese pastors and missionaries partially supported by Harvest Bridge. He reflects,

“The reason for persecution here is not hate of Jesus. No. To the core they don’t want to lose their identity of their culture, which is interconnected with their religion. In terms of Bhutanese culture, it is notable that their culture is their religion and their religion is their culture.

As a leader to persecuted believers, I pray to God who is the only person who can bring solutions for all the problems, I teach them to depend more and more on God than people. To keep moving forward with God. 

‘Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ ~ Philippians 3:13-14

Recently, one of my pastors, Pastor Phurba*, shared how God changed a strong Buddhist’s heart.

“One of the villagers in the southwest, Biren*, age 45 and from a staunch Buddhist background, was harassing us all the time whenever we go for ministry. He was bullying us as ‘foreign agents coming with a bag full of money’. We started praying for this gentleman, for God to touch him and bring him into His saving knowledge. On August 23, 2020 as we went for visiting, he invited us to his home. We were filled with much fear and went to his home to find out what kind of issue he had with us. Interestingly, without saying much he requested us to pray for his family, and we prayed for the blessings of the family. He described his encounter with Jesus through his dreams, and that he confessed Jesus is the only living God. Praise God for the way God moved into this gentleman’s heart.”

Pastor Kibu* experienced this too:

“We always used to fear our neighbors, as they always have complained about our singing and many people coming to the house. We went through much harassment. But in the month of April when the lockdown was intensive, we prayed and got strengthened to sing and share the Gospel to the neighbors. Many of our neighbors were regretting complaining about us to the authorities, as they realized that we are praying for our neighbors regularly. A bond of love among the neighbors got developed in this period.”

Being persecuted for faith will be rewarded with church growth, as well as motivation to become much stronger in the Lord. But Christians who are facing opposition for other reasons [other than for faith] are motivated by their self interest, and they need to seek the guidance of God for all that they do.

Please pray for favorable conditions for having at least a house fellowship [which is illegal]. Pray for doors to be open for confessing the faith. Pray for religious freedom to practice and propagate.”

Thank you for reading, for supporting financially, and for praying!

Next week, on the last weekend of November, we will share from two leaders in Kashmir. 

*Names changed for safety

Categories
Stories

Pray for the Persecuted 2020: Myanmar (Burma)

On this third weekend of November, following the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we continue to share the wisdom of our country leaders on persecution. This week, Pastor Pan* and Pastor Thang* in Myanmar (Burma) give their reflections.

Myanmar is 18th on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which lists the top 50 countries with the greatest persecution of Christians. Persecution has increased as Buddhist extremism and Burmese nationalism grows. For context, read Open Doors’ country profile here

Pastor Pan* has seen and experienced physical and psychological persecution in his two decades of full-time ministry. He is an encourager and connector of a network of dozens of pastors and missionaries throughout his country. A few years ago one of the women he mentored in ministry, Tabitha*, died of a premature “heart attack” the day after a mob of radical Buddhists and monks surrounded her home screaming threats. As she was 32 and healthy, it is unlikely her death was natural. Her crime was leading 12 men and women to faith in a village where she had been doing ministry for seven years.

Pastor Pan shares,

“Firstly, pray for all our partners for their safety during this pandemic. Secondly, pray for the persecuted Christians to be more strengthened in their faith. Thirdly, pray for the non-persecuted Christians not facing persecution in their lives. Finally, pray for the Gospel to be more fruitful through our efforts in Myanmar.

I personally learned and believe that persecution comes to us because of having faith in Jesus Christ and sharing His good news. Because most of our missionaries who have been facing persecution did nothing wrong with their community, but still they were opposed and persecuted. That means persecution took place because of the hatred of Jesus Christ and not because of the hatred of the man or the woman. I didn’t find any other reasons for facing opposition and persecution except having preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

During the past quarter, I haven’t experienced any persecution directly. But we must be wise when evangelizing in the villages. Even though we did not face persecution directly, the new believers’ faith is persecuted by their relatives and their communities to not follow Christian faith. But by the grace of God, though they faced persecution because of their faith, they don’t care about that. Instead, they grow in their faith.

Pastor Na*, who I serve with, recently wrote, 

‘I have regular contact with the new believers in the place where we started a new fellowship in early March. I send a message from the Bible so that they can read by themselves and learn more from the Lord. But it is very sad that some of the people in their village said to them that they hate Christians because they destroyed their beliefs. They do not want Christians in their village. When they heard all these words from their village people, they were so scared for their future. But they still have faith in Jesus Christ more than before. Please, for their safety and their future lives, pray that this kind of persecution may not destroy their faith in Jesus Christ.’

Another Pastor I serve with, Maung*, shared this recently, 

‘Most of the time, we are working among the Palong people. They mix their beliefs between Animist and Buddhist. I usually call it Animist-Buddhism. These Palong people were very conservative in their beliefs of their forefathers. Many of the Palong villages are controlled by the Palong rebels and have no chance to believe in Jesus Christ. If someone under their control becomes a believer, that man will be dismissed immediately. In the Palong villages, there are people who are always disturbing our preaching. At the beginning of March, as we planned to visit one of the villages, we were stopped from entering and pushed back to not enter their village. There were about 20 people in a group who opposed us and warned us not to preach the Gospel in their village, even in the future. But the Lord still opened another village and we have seen two people come to the knowledge of salvation.

One was a man and his name is Niang*. I visited his village and shared the love of God with him personally. His past religion was Buddhism; I shared the love of God with him for more than two hours and he came to know Jesus Christ. He confessed his sins and accepted Christ as his Saviour and Lord. He is so active in his faith, and he is now the main person to get me access to the refugee camp in his area. I hope and believe that someday he will be one of the soul winners among the people there in the refugee camp. It is also my prayer that the Lord will speak to those who are willing to learn more about the living God and will change their lives with the love of God in the next outreaches.’

According to Luke 10, when Jesus sent the 72, He said, in verse 3, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” From that point I usually encourage the persecuted believers/missionaries, that ‘you are sent among the wolves’. You might face persecution, but that persecution will not be the end, but will bear fruits for the Kingdom of God.”

Pastor Thang* is also a connector of a network of pastors and missionaries. Although he has faced opposition for his faith in small ways, like the police giving him a citation for noise in his church, he would say he has not faced persecution himself. He brings perspective to praying for and learning from the persecuted church that believers in non-persecuted countries, like the US, may relate to.

He shares,

“To be honest, I find it very hard and difficult to say a word to those people who suffer and are persecuted as well as put into prison. Because if I am in that position, how hard will it be? But I want to share what I have been praying for them, as follows: 

When I was converted in 1990, I started to pray for the people who have been persecuted because of their faith till today. Also, I am praying for the persecutors and the authorities who mistakenly and wrongly persecute Christians, that they will turn their life into believing God and trusting, like Paul the apostle.

My prayer and encouragement and message to persecuted Christians is this: 

You brothers and sisters in Christ who are in prison and being persecuted, I give you the highest honor and respect for your faith and willingness to stand for God for any cause, even to death. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” This verse is what you stand for. I personally just read it, but you are the one who is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. So, I am always reminded that I am a very poor person in spirit and the Christian life. It has always been a challenge and encouragement for me whenever I pray for you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are the transformers of the world through your faith in Christ, and stand without wavering in your faith even into the prison. Whereas many people are just speaking and confessing their faith in a normal life, you are strongly committed to the Lord. I always remember the life of Job’s suffering. God is so proud of him being faithful and trustworthy. God also knew that even though he would suffer and lose everything he has, he would never abandon God. That is why God allowed Satan to tempt and destroy his physical life, but saved his soul and life. So, you are God’s trusted men and women for the sake of other Christians, to be great examples and transform the life of the persecutor and non-Christian. So that through all your life our God will be glorified and manifested. I also pray for you and will pray for you at all times, as this is one of the greatest things that I can be part of in your suffering.”

Thank you for reading and praying! To support the work of Pan, Thang, and all the men and women we come alongside, you can give below. Next week, we will be sharing messages from leaders in Bangladesh, India, and Bhutan. 

*Names changed for safety

Categories
Stories

Pray for the Persecuted 2020: Nepal

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church took place on November 1st. Throughout this month, we will focus on prayer for our brothers and sisters in South Asia who face opposition for their faith. Each Sunday we are sharing thoughts on persecution from our country leaders. This week, we share the wisdom of our Nepal country leader, Pastor Shalva*. 

As the Christian church grows rapidly in Nepal, persecution increases. For context on the persecution believers face in Nepal, we encourage you to read Open Doors’ country analysis here. 

Pastor Shalva has been arrested several times, and was himself disowned by his high caste Hindu family for decades, until his father at last accepted Christ a year before his death. He has trained and discipled thousands of believers and pastors throughout the country in church planting, and oversees nearly 50 Nepali pastors and missionaries whom you support. Pastor Shalva shares,

“These are my personal opinions based on my experience and practice as I do ministry and help ministers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the persecution is a kind of hatred to Jesus. Nowadays Christianity is growing, so Hindu people are against the Christians because their own population and power is decreasing. 

Persecution for faith includes being excommunicated from family and society, deprived from having a share in parental property, no access to government facilities, etc. Facing opposition is that you are not allowed to preach, you are not allowed to gather in the Church. You are not invited to family or social functions, people throwing stones in your house or Church, you are not getting police support even if you very seriously need them. While you can send your children to school, because they are Christian they are treated differently, and many more examples.

Pray. There is nothing more than always praying for the safety and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. As missionaries are always doing ministry, traveling, helping others to understand and know the saving power of Lord Jesus Christ, they are always risking themselves for Christ’s sake so they also need a kind of comfort and support and encouragement from us. Through prayers we can provide them divine intervention and support and encouragement. Providing for some of their needs is also a kind of guarantee that someone is behind them and praying for them.

As a leader, mostly I visit believers facing persecution immediately after I hear the news. I try to know the situation and find out the solution to solve the problem. I will speak to those in power on behalf of the believers, and do the needed work. Moreover, I visit their family and have fellowship with them and encourage them from the Bible. I will call fasting-prayer meetings and pray for them. If they are in need of anything I will buy those things. I make myself available for them as long as they need me.

The motivation of the missionaries to face persecution is their love for Jesus and the power they have experienced as they believed in Jesus. Even in the very life threatening situation they are always ready to face persecution. They can leave everything but they can’t leave Jesus – I have seen this in the lives of persecuted Christians. They are well taught from the Bible what it is to believe in Jesus. So they are always ready to face persecution.”

Join us in praying for the persecuted church in Nepal. Next week, hear from our country leaders in Myanmar (Burma). Myanmar has an election today, November 8th – so please be in prayer for believers and the entire country this week. 

*Names changed for safety

Categories
Stories

Thoughts on Persecution: Moved and Convicted

Throughout the last five months of being on staff with Harvest Bridge, I have heard countless stories of pastors, families, and other Christians in South Asia enduring persecution for their faith. Before working for HB, stories such as these remained mainly in anecdotes from missiology books I’d read, or were tales I heard from a friend working in a “far-off” country. Now, they’re personal.

We live in a world where true persecution is a reality. I think I’ve always known this, but admittedly, living in the US has afforded me the all-too-expedient convenience to believe being persecuted for one’s faith doesn’t happen all that often. During these short five months, this preconceived notion has certainly been challenged, and for this I am grateful. 

The circumstances of persecution faced by Christians in South Asia have stark similarities to those posed in the novel Silence by Shūsaku Endō, in which persecution often occurs with seemingly no purpose, at least from man’s vantage point. This is a hard truth, but as I’ve come to realize, a reality of the Christian faith: there is purpose behind our suffering far greater than we can comprehend. 

Harvest Bridge’s partners, whom you support, understand this well.

Early on in Silence, the 17th-Century Jesuit priest Sebastien Rodrigues laments to God regarding the Japanese Christians’ suffering: 

“Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent…?” 

His doubt probably resonates with most of us at times during our lives. It causes us to ask questions such as, “Why does God “permit” suffering? Is our suffering accomplishing anything? How close is Jesus to us when we suffer?” 

The reality that I will probably never deal with persecution the way our South Asian partners do is sobering – and their faith-filled response to the seemingly unanswerable questions of suffering is humbling. Our pastors are facing real and, oftentimes, harrowing persecution – threats, discrimination, and violence are far too common. These circumstances remind us that following Jesus comes at an earthly cost, and that the reasons for this suffering sometimes seem agonizingly inane.

When our partners experience persecution, their response is often to praise God despite hardship. As we spoke this week, Pastor Bharat* in India explained that when his community experiences persecution – being denied clean water, disowned by family, or harassed by police – it strengthens their prayer life and enables relationship-building with other believers. Bharat went on to share with me that, 

“There is no time you feel closer to God than when you are persecuted.”

This is a belief that embodies Romans 8:18, “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Our missionaries’ response to persecution reveals a spirit-led life.

Towards the end of Silence, Rodrigues comes to realize that his education in Christian Portugal has blinded him to what Christ’s life message means when those comforts are stripped away, when he is tasked with comforting the poor, hurting, and vulnerable in Japan. The meaning of the suffering he’s encountered hits Rodrigues as he hears God say, 

“When you suffer, I suffer with you. To the end I am close to you.” 

He realizes Christ was always suffering with the Japanese Christians, close to them, beside them, and watching with as much anguish as the priests did as they watched their friends being crucified in the ocean. The believers we come alongside realize this – sometimes the answer to our suffering is that God is suffering as well, right beside us. That God was born into this world to share men’s pain. What a God we serve who identifies with us in this way. 

I’m moved and convicted by our partners’ response to the persecution they encounter. Let’s be moved and convicted together.

Thank you for standing with our suffering saints.

Humbled by the One who heals,

Daniel Scott, 

Director of International Partnerships

Categories
Stories

Remarkable Resilience

A few weeks ago, my plane touched down in the beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka. As I traveled to several regions of this Buddhist-majority country and observed its Independence Day celebrations on February 4th, it was easy to forget that Sri Lanka suffered a series of horrific terror attacks less than ten months prior.

On Easter Sunday last year, a local extremist group bombed three churches and three luxury hotels, taking the lives of 259 people. 

These attacks re-ignited trauma in a nation that emerged from a bloody 26-year civil war only ten years earlier. 

The Sri Lankan Civil War was fought primarily along ethnic lines; it pitted the Sri Lankan Army, with support of the country’s ethnic-majority Sinhalese people, against the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or “Tamil Tigers”. The Tamil Tigers aimed to carve out a separate state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka – underdeveloped regions dominated by the island’s largest ethnic minority, the Tamils.

Harvest Bridge has worked in Sri Lanka since 2011; our local missionary partners live and serve in the country’s northern region, where the great majority of fighting took place during the civil war. Consequently, our partners have decades of experience caring for survivors of trauma, and they were well-positioned to help those affected by last year’s terror attacks. 

Through your generosity, we provided critical and timely assistance to seriously-injured people and their families in Batticaloa, where one of the church attacks took place.

In the months following the Easter bombings, Sri Lanka has grappled with renewed ethnic tensions and questions around the authorities’ failure to heed various indications that attacks were imminent. 

The presidential election held in November reflected these dynamics; the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority carried Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose brother Mahinda faces accusations of war crimes for his role in ending the civil war, to victory. Though Rajapaksa is hailed as a hero and a strong leader by many, Sri Lanka’s minority ethnic and religious groups – Hindus, Muslims, and Christians – fear that their situation may worsen under the new government.

Amid these complexities, I was deeply encouraged by the resilience of Sri Lanka’s Christians. 

Despite suffering immensely during the civil war and being targeted in the Easter bombings, Sri Lankan followers of Jesus lovingly serve their countrymen and work for the nation’s holistic flourishing by proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel. Our partners’ response to the Easter bombings, their ongoing outreach to non-Christians, and their care for those traumatized by the horrors of war through counseling and other ministries are but a few examples.

Ultimately, it is Sri Lanka’s own people who will bring healing and transformation to their nation. Your partnership with Harvest Bridge plays a crucial role in this. We work with local Christians because they know how best to serve, love, and proclaim Christ in their unique cultural contexts.

Your prayers and support enable fruitful Sri Lankan missionaries to shine the light of the Gospel into the darkness of post-war environments, terror attack trauma, and fears of an uncertain political future. 

Thank you for being the hands and feet of the Lord through your prayers and support, extending God’s kingdom in Sri Lanka and throughout South Asia!

In Christ, 

Andrew David, 

Director of International Partnerships 

Categories
Stories

Persecution and Prayer

The first Sunday of November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. 

So you can be equipped to pray, below are a few stories of persecution from the last few months, directly from the men and women you support through Harvest Bridge. These stories come from areas where we have seen increased persecution this year.

In Nepal, a new anti-conversion law in this Hindu-majority country now makes it illegal to share one’s faith. Christians especially face pressure with this law in effect.

Dinesh* says, 

“Please pray for my ministry. I have a mission to complete for God, but after the new anti-conversion law, it has become challenging to preach publicly and baptize people in the rivers. The number of oppositions have increased after the law.”

Ashok* shares,

“The level of persecution has increased a lot within a few years. Recently, one of my friends was beaten for sharing the Gospel. He was hospitalized as the non-Christians beat him very severely while he was sharing the Gospel in a remote village.”

The Kingdom of Bhutan, wanting to preserve its Buddhist heritage, continues to tighten restrictions on Christians meeting together, owning property, or even being listed on the census as citizens.

Druk* says, 

“My daughter had to stop attending the government school that is close to our house because she was targeted for being my (a pastor’s) daughter. So for the last year we took her out. Now we have brought her back to this school, but again the teachers are not kind to her and she is unwilling to go to school. Please pray for my daughter.”

Anjay* requests, 

“Please pray for the Church members to be strengthened in the midst of threats and harassments from local authorities.”

India’s recent elections confirmed broad support for a radical Hindu government, resulting in an increase of both government-led and local persecution.

Mukesh* recounts, 

“We had started praying in a particular town and there were about 50 people reached. The RSS (a radical Hindu group) came and the place of prayer was surrounded. All the belongings of our church were broken and some Christians were killed by them. Many people were injured and abused, with the attackers saying we were proselytizing…we were told that ‘you should stop this work, otherwise you will be killed’.

But we have faithfully not stopped the Lord’s work…we were assured because God has saved us in the past. We thank God that He is faithful, as we are people serving Him. Pray for us, that we continue to stand firm for the work of God.”

With your help, we stand with these brothers and sisters as they serve the Lord in the hardest of circumstances, and we rejoice with them in the best of times. Thank you for standing with your persecuted brothers and sisters!

In Christ, 

Kate Therese, 

Director of Mobilization

Categories
Stories

Advancing the Kingdom in Kashmir

Without a doubt, the highlight of my visit to South Asia last month was my stay in Kashmir, a beautiful region that is disputed between India, Pakistan and China. 

The Indian-administered part of Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in Hindu-majority India.

When Britain left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, partitioning it into India and Pakistan, the ruler of Kashmir hesitated about which nation to join. Pakistan tried to take Kashmir by force, and India offered to help on the condition that Kashmir join India. Consequently, the region became contested. 

Three of the four wars fought between India and Pakistan have been over Kashmir. Kashmir’s natural resources and strategic location further boost its desirability. Its people have suffered greatly as pawns in a game of geopolitical chess. 

Earlier this month, in the latest “chess move”, India revoked Article 370, a constitutional provision which granted Kashmir substantial autonomy and helped preserve its distinct character by restricting the ability of outsiders to buy land or move there. India claims it revoked Article 370 to promote economic development, but locals fear this is the first step toward diluting Kashmir’s demographics in an effort to quell local separatist movements.

My heart breaks for Kashmir, in part because my experience there was the exact opposite of how it is portrayed in the media. 

I was met with warm hospitality, safety, and the opportunity to see God at work in so many encouraging ways.

Christians make up less than 0.3 percent of Indian-administered Kashmir’s population. 

They are effectively second-class citizens in a region where even the Muslim majority suffers in numerous ways due to India’s heavy-handed policies. Despite these obstacles, Harvest Bridge’s Kashmiri partners are amazing, resilient people who do inspiring work. Space permits me to highlight only a few examples. 

Pastor Peter*, the leader of our Kashmiri partners, came to faith in Christ 24 years ago after growing up in a Muslim sect that worships at the tombs of Islamic saints. He went on to earn a doctorate and now travels around India teaching comparative religion at universities – along with his involvement in Kashmiri Christian radio, publishing Christian literature, and leading a missionary network that labors to advance the Gospel in every sphere of Kashmiri society. 

He has been jailed three times, accosted by an angry mob, and falsely accused of serving pig’s blood in Communion. Yet he radiates joy and a contagious sense of humor. 

So many people we met spoke enthusiastically of the enormous positive impact Pastor Peter has made in their lives.

One such person is Brother Javed*, an imposing man who wears the beard and clothing characteristic of a mullah (Islamic scholar). 

Islam permits Muslim men to marry Christian and Jewish women, so when he fell in love with a Christian woman, his family did not oppose their marriage. He tried to convert her to Islam, but changed his mind after learning about Christianity’s teachings. His wife was from the same town as Pastor Peter, which brought Javed into contact with Peter. 

After 13 years of Gospel proclamation and demonstration from his wife, Pastor Peter and others, Javed came to faith. His family cut off contact with him as a result, and he now runs a tea stall for a living instead of working the comfortable government job he previously held. 

He continues to dress like a mullah, which opens numerous doors for ministry that are closed to others.

Then there’s Brother Fahad*. 

Born and raised Muslim, Fahad enjoyed reading religious scriptures as a boy. He read so much that he developed a reputation as a learned mullah (Islamic scholar) by age 17. He read about other faiths too, but their religious texts were difficult to obtain in the Kashmir Valley. One day he found a New Testament on the road, and read it cover-to-cover within a few days. 

After reading Hindu and Baha’i scriptures as well, he left Islam and became agnostic. When Kashmir received internet access, he began watching videos of Christian philosophers and apologists like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. 

Through these videos, he came to faith in Christ.

Young and fearless, he began debating openly with mullahs, atheists, and members of other faiths. He can easily share his faith because of his reputation as a scholar, but he routinely faces opposition from local mullahs. 

Staggeringly he held Christian beliefs for 14 years before meeting another Kashmiri Christian – an indication of how few there are. In 2014, he met Pastor Peter, who baptized him.

Fahad is now the voice of a Kashmiri-language Christian radio station run by our Kashmir partners; its broadcasts reach both the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir.  

Peter, Javed, Fahad, and so many others like them are the people you support when you partner with Harvest Bridge. 

Our Kashmiri missionaries vividly demonstrate Harvest Bridge’s ministry model: coming alongside local South Asian Christians who are doing much with little, and who know how best to reach their people for Christ.

Please pray for Kashmir – for peace, resolution of its political problems, and the needs of its people to be holistically met. 

Thank you for equipping us to advance God’s work in Kashmir and throughout South Asia.

God bless,

Andrew David, 

Director of International Partnerships

*Names changed for security

Categories
Stories

Paradise Lost

“Welcome to our Paradise Island!” These words greeted me at the Colombo, Sri Lanka airport this past February, reflecting the growing optimism of the Sri Lankan people.

Ten years had passed since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, and its war-weary people looked forward to what they considered a bright future. People I met talked excitedly about burgeoning tourism, growing foreign investment, and rising property values.

My first stop was Negombo. My host Ashal* told me that Sri Lanka’s problems were behind it, its factions lived together in peace, and the government now fairly represented its diverse people. While showing me the sights, Ashal proudly took me to a historic Catholic church where he worshiped. The following day, in northern Sri Lanka, our partner Pastor Suhas* solemnly recalled the last days of the war, when his church buried 16 of its members in a single grave in one day. 

But, that was 10 years ago. Thankfully those days were past!

Less than two months after my visit, on Easter Sunday, over 100 people died from a terrorist bombing at a Catholic church in Negombo. My friend Ashal was spared, but profoundly shaken by the tragedy. The same day, a church in Batticaloa, where one of Suhas’s friends is pastor, lost 28 people and saw over 100 injured in another bombing, including many children. A few days later, six terrorists were arrested in Pastor Suhas’s small town. 

The optimism I witnessed when I first arrived in Sri Lanka evaporated.

The faces and names of all of the victims of the Batticaloa bombing

It is natural to ask where Christ is in this. In the midst of tragedy, Christians are not only victims but also members of Christ’s Body, through whom Jesus is present to comfort and heal. Pastor Suhas learned this during the 26-year Civil War. 

During those difficult years, Suhas remained at the very epicenter of the war, introducing thousands of people from both sides of the conflict to Christ and launching 125 pastors into successful ministries. Refined in the crucible of war, Suhas and his team have been spiritually and emotionally equipped to serve people in the current crisis.

Many organizations, both Christian and otherwise, have helped victims of the Easter bombings. The Sri Lankan government is financially helping families of the 253 people who died. Some Christian organizations have given generously for the repair of church buildings.  

Batticaloa church after the bombing

With your support, Harvest Bridge helped a group that has been more overlooked – seriously-wounded men, women and children, and their families. Thankfully, we were able to provide this help in a deeply personal way. 

Suhas and his team, which includes Christian counselors with experience helping people recover from the trauma of the Civil War, personally visited the wounded and their families. They mourned alongside those who mourned, comforted them, and prayed with them, as well as providing a financial gift from your hands.

I thank God for all who responded to God’s Spirit to help the Sri Lankans in need. 

Paul writes that the Body of Christ has many parts serving different functions, without which the Body would be incomplete. 

Like other members of Christ’s Body, Harvest Bridge has played a unique role in this crisis and many others. We are comparatively small and nimble, so we are able to serve where needed, meeting needs unmet by other organizations. In addition, our partnerships with local ministries make it possible to provide not just material help, but caring people who can serve as Christ’s hands and feet.

May the fellowship of Christ be with you, both in times of blessing and times of trouble!

Tim

Timothy M., President

*Names changed for security

Categories
Stories

Hope From Within

Last month, I was worshipping with pastors and missionaries in Sri Lanka in an area that had been devastated by the country’s 30-year civil war, a war in which conservative estimates report at least 150,000 people died, the majority being civilians.

The bullets stopped in 2010, but the scars are deep.

Our missionaries in Sri Lanka prioritize ministry to the many women and children who were widowed and orphaned by the war. In one church alone, one of our female missionaries runs a widows’ ministry with about 75 women. Nearly all our Sri Lankan missionaries incorporate some kind of orphan care into their ministry.

In addition to emotional and psychological scars, many of our missionaries have physical scars from the conflict. 

One of our partners, a 27-year old pastor, miraculously survived stepping on a landmine when he was 15 years old. It was while he was healing from his extensive injuries, and mourning the loss of his parents and most of his siblings soon afterward, that he cried out to Jesus and gave his life to God.

The amount of death and pain these missionaries and the people to whom they minister have seen is overwhelming. It’s a reminder of how important it is to support local believers in serving their communities. Sometimes the only people who can comfort you and pull you out of the darkest of times are people who have gone through the same pain, and can say, “There’s hope”.

While traveling in India on the same trip, I visited five of our supported pastors in the state of Odisha, formerly called Orissa. One of the churches I visited had been burnt to the ground by Hindu radicals 10 years ago. Riots in this area led to many churches being burned, several Christians being killed, and dozens of pastors left severely injured. 

Several of those pastors are now supported by us. 

The church has been rebuilt completely by believers in that village, who used their own extremely limited resources. Amazingly, some of the men who burned the church down are now attending another nearby church, also planted by one of our pastors!

The men came to follow Jesus after long years of these pastors and other Christians sharing the Gospel, showing them love, and offering forgiveness when they finally asked for it.

This love and forgiveness would not have carried the same weight in these men’s lives if it had not been offered by local Christians, the ones who had been hurt by their terrorism. Another reminder of the importance of building up the local church to reach their own people for Christ.

They were able to speak truth and love in a way that no one else could.

Also on this trip, I spent time in Bangladesh visiting rural villages where early childhood education programs are being started. These are communities where parents are doing comparatively well if, between the two of them, they earn $4 a day from working in rice paddies or farming shrimp. For various reasons, it is rare for any child to be educated in these communities, and it’s nearly unheard of for a girl to go to school. 

These communities are steeped in a tradition of superstition and prejudice, making change seem impossible. However, many of the pastors we support grew up in these communities. Coming from that same background of poverty and superstition, they, more than anyone, can prove there is another way. That the cycle can be broken, and that families can not only benefit from education, but find freedom in Christ. 

In short, our indigenous ministry partners have the credibility to affect meaningful change in these villages. 

When you support Harvest Bridge, you are supporting men and women who are uniquely able to reach their communities and countries for Christ. Our focus will always be to equip the local church to reach their own people for Christ as effectively as possible. 

Thank you for joining us in this!

In Christ, 

Kate Therese, Director of Mobilization