As many of us gear up for the Christmas break by shopping, packing or cooking, many of our brothers and sisters will be spending their holidays in faraway, even dangerous lands. But don’t worry, this article isn’t meant to make you feel guilty – it’s meant to give you hope
When I ask my friend Emily the most obvious of questions (“So are you nervous about your forthcoming trip to Central Asia?”) she smiles and nods. “I’m apprehensive of the unknown,” she says, “but I’m also looking forward to seeing the situation through the eyes of local people, rather than the limited perspective we get from the media.”
As CMS regional personnel officer for Asia, Emily has extensive experience visiting people and projects in places where many people fear to go. As she reviews the list of security precautions one needs to take to travel and live in these places, another question comes to mind: “Why take the risk?”
“When you talk to the people there, you get a sense that it’s a real calling and they will risk anything to fulfil that calling,” Emily says. And it’s in some of these seemingly “dark” or “dangerous” places where the Gospel is flourishing.
“Soon there will be more Christians in China than anywhere else,” says CMS General Secretary Tim Dakin. And yet Christians in China still have to be careful.
Sharing stories from projects in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Sudan and Iraq can be difficult as exact names and locations must be omitted. But good work is constantly happening.
For example, in one former Soviet Union country, when local factories hire migrant workers, they often take away their identity papers and force them to do backbreaking work from dawn until dark. The workers are given large quantities of cheap vodka to keep them subdued.
Factory owners bribe local officials to ignore the horrid conditions and the workers are scared to leave for fear of being arrested as illegal immigrants. When the workers become ill or too old to work they are literally thrown out into the street.
Nearby, Russ operates a church in a Muslim-majority area. Risking persecution, he lobbies local officials to improve conditions at these slave factories. When people are kicked out of the factories, Russ takes them to get the food, medical care and counselling they need.
Elsewhere in Central Asia trust is built through relationships: “One widow, a mother of nine children, knew I was visiting her, but she did not know that I would arrive in a pick-up truck loaded with firewood, rice, flour, tea and sugar. She was overjoyed and overwhelmed by what we had provided. I was able to pray with her and her family and explain why and how I could give her this gift.”
To make sure important work continues in places where the name of Jesus is rarely heard and the love of Jesus is rarely felt, CMS is running a sponsored trek of the Great Wall of China in May 2008.
“People who labour in areas like this often go unrecognised due to security issues,” says CMS Fundraising director Joseph Steinberg, adding: “This is one way we can show support for them and demonstrate our faith in a God who makes all things possible.”
Phil Simpson, Regional Director for CMS Eurasia, concurs: “The China Wall trek is about raising money and awareness for hard places, hidden behind walls. That's why I'm doing it. These are some of the most exciting parts of our work. But we can’t talk about them!”
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