Spoken by one of our national pastors/church planters in the Middle East when he received some limited rations.
Attention readers: This story will take up to ten minutes to read. I know you are busy and would prefer short announcements. But this is one of those cases that I feel you need details to understand the need, so I have written it in segments for your benefit. So please give me ten minutes. Your understanding and knowledge will benefit from doing so.
Imagine how hungry you must be to eat garbage. This condition describes 55% of the population of Afghanistan alone, more than 23 million people. But it also describes the situation in a neighboring country. But what makes that so strange is -- that it is the same country that recently allowed thousands of fleeing Afghanis to enter, seeking refuge. So, let's not talk countries; let's talk regions.
Recently, this region has faced a multi-year drought, resulting in fewer and fewer crops being produced. That, coupled with the Taliban's overthrow of the government, has caused 98% of the people to lack sufficient food to eat.
Such a scenario is easy to read about, then move on with your daily life, but what if it were you or your family? Suppose you are the father or mother who has nothing to feed your children. Winter is here, and you have no heating oil. You have lost your job, and besides, the markets are empty. You have had what you needed to survive all your life, perhaps even thrive. But this is your new reality; in 2021, a dog on the street ate better than your family does today. Your only hope is to survive until conditions improve.
Alexander the Great passed through this region on his way to India two and a half millennia ago. Later, when he began his return to Babylon, he recorded many sea-side villages which subsisted on fish alone. Other villages, further inland, ate rats and grass. They were almost entirely naked because they had nothing to produce or trade for clothing. Even his soldiers, wearied by years of travel and blood lust, carrying their meager possessions on their backs, commented on the poverty they saw. Those hardened soldiers wept and shared what they had with the people. Such conditions are now returning. But, I wonder, will his pagan legions have more compassion than the affluent legions of Christ?
If ever there was a time when the gospel reached that land, it is lost in history. The closest witness we know of was Thomas, who evangelized in lower India, a thousand miles away. But today, we are harvesting our Lord's fields with great bounty.
This region boasts no army has ever conquered it. And while that is not entirely correct, it has remained isolated to the rest of the world. Today, few armies would feel there is anything there worth conquering, other than the rare earth metals beneath the surface. The economy is devasted, health conditions are more severe than ever, and many say it is the worst winter in their lifetime. Food is more and more scarce. And now, the conditions are no better across the border where they recently sought relief.
Let me tell you a few of the stories I have heard this week.
A handicapped Brother:
One of our young men, now about twenty-two years of age, was arrested in the summer of 2020. During the torture, the beatings badly damaged nerves in his neck, and since that time, he has endured pain in his neck, back, and one of his legs. At times the pain renders him virtually paralyzed and unable to stand. This winter's chill, perhaps the worst on record, had debilitated him. He cannot work because he cannot walk or stand. His is not a permanent situation, but it is his current situation until warmth returns in the Spring. He is not unwilling to work; he is not lazy; he is disabled for his testimony for Christ.
In this region, inflation has caused the currency to lose most of its value. As a result, prices on food and other essentials have risen so high they are unattainable to the average family. Most families there now have no money for heating oil or even firewood. These are the same families who welcomed our fleeing families from Afghanistan two months ago into their homes. Unfortunately, they can no longer provide for them because they can no longer feed their own families. Still, they are infant brothers in Christ, so they share what they have, though it is little to nothing.
Two months ago, the funds to buy a loaf of bread, today buys only a slice; and it is hard, crusted, and moldy. I was told they soak the bread in water to soften it so so they can eat it. Others who can work for daily wages are hindered by the seasonal jobs, waiting for the harvest. Unfortunately, the cold has destroyed much of the crops leaving no income and no hope for future work.
How then do they survive?
Young men and ladies secretly offer their kidneys for sale to feed their families. In the past, you could sell your kidney for $10,000 to $15,000. Today they are only paid $3,000. No special care is given to those who sell their kidneys. There is often no pain medication and no post-op attention. After all, if they perish, the doctor won't have to pay for the kidney. Those who survive must walk home and recuperate without pain relief or medication for infections.
Others have resorted to scavenging garbage on the streets and city dumps. When serving as a young pastor, I remember doing the same to feed my wife and two small children. I would catch a ride to the farmer's market because I had no income to buy food or fuel for my car. As a result, I couldn't purchase the vegetables they sold there. Still, I was allowed to sift through their piles of rotten tomatoes and potatoes, fifteen feet high, decomposing in the sun. I would pick out all I could find that were salvageable, then take them home where my wife and I would carve away the mold and eat what was left. I had never felt such shame, and thankfully, my situation soon changed.
The Lord used this circumstance in my life to give me a burden to help poor preachers worldwide and eventually gave birth to founding Final Frontiers and Touch a Life. I know what they are going through; only, for them, there is no farmer's market and no piles of discarded vegetables. They are hungry, and their only hope is that their Father will feed them.
A child that perished -- this past Monday:
In another town, a family of four took two refugee children to stay with them. Having no beds, they would all sleep on the floor, huddled in the corner of the room, using their body warmth for heat. They have no beds as these are poor people. This week, the host family woke abruptly, hearing the scream of one of the children. There is an open window on the opposite side of the room from where they slept. It is open because the pane is missing, and there is no money available to replace it. For some reason, their eight-year-old daughter moved to sleep under the open window during the night. During the night, she froze to death.
As the other three children began to awake, one of them went to wake this little girl and found her stiff, lifeless body.
When I heard this, I thought, "If only I had known, I could have given funds for food, a blanket, oil for a heater, or even replaced the windowpane." And I know hundreds of you reading this are thinking the same. If only we had known. Well, now we do.
In all these cases (and there are scores), they are Jewish Believers who have chosen to follow Jesus as their Messiah, or Muslims who have risked their lives to follow Him.
A Historical/Biblical Comparison:
Realize something, please. When Paul visited and wrote to the house churches in the New Testament, he instructed them to lay aside offerings every week, on the first day of the week. The purpose, in context, was not to support the local church (though that is necessary); because they met in a house, and all the pastors were most likely bi-vocational. Their tithes went to care for those in need, widows, orphans, the imprisoned, the poor, and yes, preachers and pastors. But the offerings he spoke about were to give food and relief to the Believers in Jerusalem – Jewish Believers. A coming famine had been prophesied, and Paul wanted the Gentile churches to set aside funds so he could take relief to them when it arrived. His reasoning was the gospel (spiritual food) came to the Gentiles through them (the Jews), so was it fitting for relief (physical food) to flow back from the Gentiles to them. He honored those who gave, and he rebuked those that did not. He praised those who gave abundantly despite their poverty and chided those who could give but did not and scolded those who promised to give much but gave only a little.
I am not a Paul, but I do try to be a Barnabas, one who brings comfort to the Believers in need. Elisha caught the mantel of Elijah and doubled the miracles he performed. And if there be any mantel for me to catch, I have long hoped it would be that of Barnabas. I want to help the brethren, and the fact that you are reading this, indicates you feel the same way. So here is another way, another opportunity for us to help.
Here's what we need to do:
We have 500 families living in four different cities/towns/villages under extreme circumstances. (Praise God our work has been so fruitful!) We don't know how long, but we expect them to find seasonal jobs and take care of themselves once the winter is over. So, we are probably looking at February and March. (There are others, of course, as our numbers of converted families are now in the thousands, but these 500 families are the most desperate.)
Our director has told me that a family can scrape by on $57 a month per family. (A family will range in size from seven to nine people, so we are looking to help up to 4,500 Believers at the cost of $57,000.
Though a large amount, it is only $6.33 per person per month or 21¢ per person per day.) This amount will provide them with food, some blankets, and the ability to buy heating oil if available and, if not, some firewood. Of course, it won't pay for gourmet foods, soft drinks, or candy, but it will give them essential and healthy foods, especially for their children. Who knows, they may even be able to enjoy a cup of hot tea or coffee before going to sleep.
Some good news (-- it's about time, huh):
We were thrilled by those who gave for the release of our two preachers with such generosity. That was a clear sign that you felt their pain, made it yours, and acted to free them as you would want others to do if it were you who had been captured. Yours was faith and works. That is the "pure and undefiled religion" that James encouraged us to practice. And for doing so, I honor you.
Because of your generosity, we ultimately received $14,557 more than that need required. I had hoped those funds might sit in the bank for a few weeks, indicating that there was no crisis to avert. Still, after learning of this need, we sent those funds to provide immediate relief to these 500 families suffering from hunger and cold.
Thus, since you have already provided $14,557 (26% of the need), we have an estimated need remaining of only $42,443.
I want you to know that Nolin and I will also give for this need. What a marvelous opportunity to bless these brothers and sisters -- and their children. I hope you feel that way too.
Thank you for your time. I’ll write again with updates as the need is met.
Join Missionary Ernest Livingston as our Season 2 adventure continues. In Episode 4 we find him facing the necessity of taking care of family. But not just any family . . . his own twin brother Ned, who is suffering from a courageous scientific experiment gone wrong. Will Ernest be able to forgive, and endure the constant trials caused by this bundle of trouble; or will he become hopelessly bitter during what seems to be a ministry set-back?
Recently you gave to help us feed a village in the Middle East, where the governor was born and raised. Formerly a persecutor, after seeing the testimony of our light shining so brightly, he asked our pastors for help. (For more detail, click here to read the original request)
Of course, when I say “our shining light,” I am referring to the lives of our church members in that land. Where we once had one church, we now have more than a dozen, and that’s just in that land.
Our endeavor resulted in seventy-two adult Muslims coming to Christ, and a new house church was planted. Over the following weeks, the three-man team returned to evangelize more and teach the newborn Christians. As Paul wrote, as babes in Christ, they “desired” milk from the Word and were delighted to be instructed by the pastors as they read along with their own gifted, but illegal, Bibles.
We called the group leader Abraham, and though only twenty-nine years of age, he was already a veteran church planter and pastor. Years ago, we sent him to xxxxxxxxx, where we were beginning to evangelize and smuggle Bibles. The militia in that land caught him. They used sledgehammers to break the bones in one hand and one leg as part of the torture, wrongly assuming the pain, discouragement, and disability would silence him forever. We brought him home, hired medical professionals, and tended his wounds. As soon as he could, he picked up his Bible, walked out of the house, and went back to that country to continue his work. (How I wish I could tell you the countries so you would see where we are and rejoice that where Christ was once unknown, He is now embraced. First by one or two, then by dozens, then hundreds, followed by thousands and tens of thousands.)
After some time, we brought Abraham home to assist our upcoming leader. Metaphorically, our Moses was getting old, and Joshua was ready to lead the people. Still, just as Moses needs a Joshua, Joshua also needs a trusted, experienced, loyal, dedicated, and competent assistant. That man was Abraham. His life and ministry blessed everyone, and they enthusiasticlly watched as he did wonders for our Lord. Several years ago, the church was blessed to witness Abraham marry his bride, now twenty-four years of age. Together, they have a son who is eighteen months old.
On New Year’s Eve Day, Abraham and his team of two younger men, both dedicated to a life of service no matter the cost, entered a van with a bag containing sixteen Bibles. The plan was to return to the village, where the governor had promised us protection, and evangelize sixteen more households. But as they approached the village, the van stopped abruptly at an unexpected militia checkpoint. Everyone was forced to exit the van, and immediately our three men were accosted. They were, in fact, the purpose of the checkpoint. The militiamen abused the three with great anger, then knocked Abraham down to the ground, and the leader shot Abraham. The three bullets in his chest and one in his neck quickly ended his mortal life. Immediately, his bride was a widow and his son, an orphan. He was our last to fall in 2021, mere hours from the new year.
The militia then took the sixteen Bibles as well as the two men. Later that day, the church was able to buy back the body of their fallen pastor. The militia had intended to guard his body against rescue so dogs could eat it, and in this way, disgrace our Lord by shaming His servants. However, the thought of a few coins in their pockets persuaded them to sell his corpse so our brothers could wash it, make it presentable for his wife to view, and then take him out to our secret place and lay him to rest with his fallen comrades. When the ceremony was over, I received a call saying, “We took him to our place, kissed him goodbye, and put him in the ground.” The simple eloquence of that heartbroken sentence, from the mouth of the man who had won him to Christ and discipled him, brought me to tears.
A civil war has engulfed the land I speak of for more than fifteen years. In addition, it has hosted the armies of proxy wars of other half-dozens countries. There is no family that has not suffered loss or a community that has not been shelled. Over a million of its citizens have risked their lives and forsaken all they possess to flee to neighboring lands. And even more who have left their home but remain trapped within the borders. When General Sherman burned Georgia and secured the Union, his tactics were criticized. To that criticism, he replied, “War is Hell.” But the devastation this land and its people have endured makes Sherman look like a little boy playing with matches.
The reason these militiamen were so angry is this. As the war continues, every group tries to possess and control new territories. Battles are fought to conquer or protect territory. And the driving force in all this is the conflict between the two major denominations of Islam -- Shia and Sunni.
The Shia believe the headship of Islam is hereditary and passes from Mohammad to his blood relatives. They believe the Ayatollah is a descendant of Mohammad. Shia is the primary religion of Iran and comprises 15% of the world’s Muslims. The other and much larger denomination is Sunni. They believe that Islamic leadership is not hereditary but should be selected or elected to the position by their clerics. They rule in such lands as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. 85% of all Muslims are Sunni. Other, smaller denominations align themselves with one of the two larger sects. One tiny sect speaks in tongues; another believes in reincarnation, while another, during worship, spins in circles until they enter a trance. Both the Shia and the Sunni consider non-aligned or wrongly aligned sects of Islam to be heretics and traitors to Islam and deserving annihilation.
In this case, the militia was Iranian; and targeted this village to convert them to become Shia Muslims. They had sent as many as one hundred men there for nearly a year to preach the Shia faith and establish it as a stronghold. Yet they had failed. Then, only a few days after our men first went there, they returned, but few would come out to hear them this time. Wondering what was causing this unusual rejection, they began to question the community and learned that our men had been there, distributing food, clean water, medicines, blankets, and Bibles. Enraged that four of Christ’s men could do in four days what a hundred of theirs they could not do in a year, they set up a checkpoint beyond the village entrance to ambush our men.
As he promised, the governor did not prevent us, but neither did he protect us, and we are dealing with him over that issue. In the meantime, the government has dispatched men to remove the militia and protect the villagers, most of whom are now Christians! Still, we have two brothers in Christ held against their will in a secret location. The militia feels that these men broke the law of Islam but are willing to pardon them for a price. That price, for the two, is $8,000. Some would say this is a bribe, but we see it as a bond or a judiciary fine. To be sure, if not paid, they will not be released – alive.
Are there other options? Yes, we could let the authorities handle it in their own way, but be assured, our men would likely be the first to perish in the attempt. Therefore, we feel the best course of action is to redeem these men, remembering that the word redeem means to “buy back what was previously yours.” If Christ could and would do that for us, at the cost of His life, surely, I can do the same for His younger brothers, who are my brothers as well.
So, we need your help to raise $8,000 quickly for these two men to be released. If you are able and willing, please use the donation form on this page.
I hear some of you asking, what is there to keep this from happening again? I cannot tell you why that is not a concern. I don’t want to give away our secrets. But let me say that we have been doing this for nearly two decades in nearly a dozen lands, and that has never happened. Procuring release comes with conditions that have historically always been honored. I am confident that this will be the rule and not the exception.
By the way, at his tiny, makeshift funeral, several men pledged their lives publicly to take Abraham’s place, to preach and to smuggle Bibles. So we lost one, but we gained three in his place. Satan either does not know or does not care that the more of us he kills, the greater our numbers grow.
Now for some good news:
Abraham’s widow is/was in need. Like her husband, she too converted from an Islamic family. However, they are still Muslim, and culture demands that she return to her family and subject herself to her father and brothers. They have already begun making plans to bring her home. They will likely beat her for converting and publically shame her, believing Allah killed her husband for his and her blasphemy, and they will ensure that the boy is raised as a Muslim. Then, they will force her to marry a Muslim man of her father’s choice. She has no voice in these decisions. For this reason, sometimes the widow will arrange for a Christian family to take her children, then commit suicide rather than being forced to marry a Muslim and be forever separated from her fellow believers.
We have a commitment from and to all our men in the Middle East and the wives that upon their death, no matter the cost, we will ensure that their wife is secure from forced marriage and their children raised by Christians. Then, as they grow older, we reveal who their real mom and dad were and how they gave their lives for Christ.
Thus, the other option is for her to disappear for at least a year or more, causing the family to give up hope of finding her. Therefore, we will have to relocate her and take care of her to do this. During that period, we will have her acquire a skill and a trade to take care of herself, and hopefully, someday, she may want to marry one of our single men.
To accomplish this for her and the child, we estimate a need of $5,650.
I am happy to say that before I made this need known, I received a call from a family that had some funds they wanted to give to the Lord’s work. With the recommendation of their pastor, they contacted me. So, as I write this letter, I am blessed to report that they have fully paid the expense of the widow and child; thus, all we need is the $8,000 for the two men. What a blessing! What a Heavenly reward!
A final prayer request:
We have received word regarding your help in feeding a village of people in the Middle East. You will recall that the Governor, a man who previously persecuted our people, asked if these same persecuted people would help to feed the people of his village. It is incredible a governor would have to ask for help in the first place, and it demonstrates the dire situation in his country. But even more so, to ask for help from Christians. It was, of course, American believers who gave the money, but it was channeled through Believers in his land who provided the food. In this way, God gets the glory. We cannot let people know that American Believers are the funding source.)
If you need a reminder of what this was all about, click here to see the original request from a few weeks ago.
Our Director for the Middle East and North Africa sent the following email:
"I just arrived in *********, safe and sound, and am ready to preach over the next four days, all day, to the house churches and meet with some pastors that have been referred to me. But I wanted to send you this short note about feeding the Governor's family and neighbors in his hometown.
We prepared the basic necessities of daily life and were only hindered by the Coronavirus, spreading rapidly and the severe cold weather. However, we were able to take care of 125 families, which was 1,365 individuals. We gave each family milk, oil, burgal (an Arabic grain similar to rice), cans of meat, bread, and 5,000 liters of water. We also gave each family 600 liters of oil to warm their houses and blankets. Besides this, the Governor fulfilled his promise to allow us to distribute Bibles and evangelize. We distributed 1,737. As we distributed the food and started preaching, many neighbors came to listen to us, and so we gave 400 additional Bibles to those families.
By our Lord's grace, many of them were surprised to see a group from a church come to serve Muslim families. First, we were able to show them the love, mercy, and care of Christ; then, we shared the gospel of Christ with them and explained the reason for our Savior to come to the earth. In the four days that we were in their village, more than 3,681 people came to listen to us under the Governor's protection. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough Bibles to give everyone who attended, but by the grace of God, we saw 72 individuals accept the Lord as their Savior.
I'll tell you that this area will surprise us very soon. We are planning to revisit all those families again and explain the gospel to the rest of the families in the village. And we plan to provide Bibles to give to each family as we visit."
In my initial letter to you, I expressed that we intended to win souls and plant a new house church. That was accomplished. The reality is, it will take a huge house to hold all the new believers. As with most of our churches, they will have to attend by schedule so that everyone can be taught. Many of our house churches have seven services a day. Those who attend one may never meet those who attend the others. Because of some things happening in this country, and the fact that God has given us favor in the eyes of the government, before long, who knows – they may even let us build a Baptist church in their village. (Sorry, but that's all I can say for now.)
Those who received help were so grateful that they sat and listened for days to the preaching about our loving Father and His son Jesus, who brought them the bread and water of life they have lived for thousands of years with no knowledge of. Like water poured out on a desert, the gospel was consumed by their thirsty souls, and a new body of believers has been formed.
We asked for $10,000, and you ultimately gave $10,004. The extra $4 was used to buy one of the Bibles that was distributed. Once again, you made a difference. We asked -- you gave -- and now Christ is reaping the glory! Thank you for praying and giving and for making our beautiful Lord so appealing to those who had only heard wrong about Him.