Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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Silhouetted within the doorway was a group of street children drawn there by the pulsing music of the church’s young musicians and dancers. The sight of the children saddened me because they reminded me of the countless numbers of children I saw roaming the streets of Bunia and the countryside—victims of a corrupt government system that was robbing them of a proper education that could lift them out of their country’s poverty.

Watching them in that doorway, I wondered if there was any hope for the children of Bunia to have a better life.

By the time our mission trip ended, two things gave me hope.

The first is the way in which God is using the Bunia Francophone Evangelical Church and other churches in the area to bring healing, reconciliation, and positive change to the people in the region through evangelism, discipleship, education, and in challenging leaders in politics, business, and the armed forces to serve with justice and mercy. Transformation is happening, many people are coming to Christ, and the swelling ranks of children, teenagers, and young adults in the services and youth groups are strong indicators that lives are being changed.

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One of the many youth groups at the Bunia Francophone Evangelical Church

The second is the amazing story of one of our team members, Neema Paininye Banga, who started life in a tiny, remote Congolese village to very poor parents, yet, by the grace of God, she grew up to earn a Masters degree in psychology at an American university, and returns to the Congo each year to minister to the people of her village.

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Neemah Paininye Banga

Neema’s story began when her own mother, Julienne, was a child in the village of Gwane, and an American couple came to the neighboring village of Assa, and established a mission church where they taught the people to sew and crochet, and shared the Gospel. Curious about them, Julienne went to meet them in Assa and heard the stories of Jesus. Julienne accepted Jesus as her savior, then brought her mother, Ziana to hear the Gospel stories. She, too, became a Christian.

Ziana, who was one of the wives of the Gwane village chief, was ostracized by the chief and his other wives for converting to Christianity and forsaking their witchcraft practices and worship of dead ancestors. So she and Julienne fled to Assa and took refuge in the mission, where they stayed for many years, learning the various crafts of needlework. It was there at the mission that Julienne met and married one of the young men, Jean-Christophe. They had seven children, of which five survived, Neema being the fourth.

However, Jean-Christophe died of a lung disease when Neema was one year old, so Julienne stayed in the mission to mentor the other widows of Assa. To earn a living, she worked the fields of a farmer. The missionaries gave Neema and her sister school uniforms and allowed them to attended the mission school for free. After school, the sisters walked several miles to help their mother work on the farm until dark, after which they would return home to gather wood and fetch water before doing their homework. Neema was five years old at this point.

Neema’s 13-year-old sister, Eugenie, was sent to Bunia to stay with a family and attend high school. She finished high school and started college, but dropped out to marry Idi Taban, a business owner.

When Neema was ready for high school, Eugenie sent for her to come and live with her family in Bunia. Neema babysat, cooked, and did other household chores for the family, and Idi paid for her high school tuition.

In 1997, as the civil war was about to break out, Idi moved his entire family, including Neema, to Nairobi, Kenya. He paid for Neema to attend an English school, and she did so well in her studies there that he later paid for her to attend a Christian university in Nairobi.

Neema became close friends with her American roommate who was there on a study-abroad program. When the roommate returned to America, she persuaded Neema to transfer with her to the same university—Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Again, Idi paid for her travel, tuition, and board to attend Eastern University.

Still, Neema worked in the student cafeteria and as a nanny to earn extra money while carrying a full credit load, and earned a bachelor degree in psychology. She then enrolled at the University of Georgia in Atlanta to pursue a Master’s degree in psychology. It was there that she met and married Dhego Banga, a man from Bunia who was working on his Ph.D. Neema subsequently dropped out of her graduate program to have the first of their two children.

When Dhego finished his Ph.D., he moved the family to San Francisco to start a new job. Once they were settled, Neema resumed her studies and earned a Master’s degree in psychology at San Jose State University.

In 2013, Neema was burdened for the people of the Congo, especially those in the village of Ango where Julienne and many of the villagers had fled when rebels invaded Assa during the civil war. Neema realized that the necessities of life—clean water, affordable health care, and good nutrition—do not exist for the villagers of Ango, who live hopeless, helpless lives, and wake up in the morning not knowing when they will have their next meal.

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Neema traveling by canoe on her 4-day journey to Ango

So once or twice each year, she leaves San Francisco and flies to Bunia with basic supplies such as hygiene products, clothes, and nonperishable nutritional foods. She then travels for four days by bus, truck, and “budda-budda” taxi bikes over bone-wrenching dirt roads and in dug-out river canoes to reach Ango.

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Neema meeting with Ango villagers

Once there, she meets with family members and villagers, provides them with needed supplies, and shares the Gospel with them, leading some to Christ. There is no longer a mission church for the people,  the missionaries having had to return to America when the civil war started. With no one left to carry on the ministry, the villagers slipped back into the old ways and beliefs in witchcraft and worshiping dead ancestors.

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Neema with some of the widows of Ango

So Neema fights back the darkness by teaching the villagers about Jesus, healthy living, and by starting a charity in America to benefit the people of Ango and the region of Bas-Uele. She knows that hers is presently a one-woman struggle to sow the seeds of progress in Ango, but she believes that this is a task that God has entrusted to her and that the harvest is in God’s hands and timing.

The image of the six silhouetted children is fixed in my mind, not with the sadness that I initially felt when I took pictures of them, but now I view them with hope—hope nurtured in prayer that, like Neema, God will lead them on their own redemptive journey in which they will grow up to serve his Kingdom and bring change to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Please visit Neema’s website at www.achearts.com and support her ministry to bring relief to the people of her village. Thank you.


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As a young American Muslim, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi was very knowledgeable about the Quran and was trained to defend the Islam religion against Christians. Yet, in his search to know God more personally and deeply, he went on a search to critique both the Christian Bible and the Quran. The result was that he became disillusioned about what he found in the Quran and Islam, and became convinced that the claims of Christianity and the Bible were true.

In this interview, he tells how a college friend and a series of dreams from God became the major influences in his conversion to Jesus Christ, and how his conversion cost him the loss of his family:

In this next video, which was recorded at Biola University were he was teaching a course on Christian apologetics and Islam, Nabeel goes more in depth about his journey from Islam to Christianity, especially the differences between Islam and Christianity, and how to communicate correctly, confidently, and respectfully the Christian Gospel to Muslims.

In I Peter 3:15, Peter admonishes us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. However, Nabeel found that very few Christians could give a reasonable and informed response in defense of their Christian faith. Can you?


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The condition of the church around the world is both troubling and encouraging, both dismal and dynamic.

The bad news—Attendance is declining:

Surveys by various respected institutions over the past ten years show that church attendance is declining in the developed regions (also known as the Global North) of the world—U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Following is a partial summary of findings that I’ve culled from some of the surveys (see end notes):

• Around 17% of Americans attend church on any given week – not the 40% that some polls show. The discrepancy is in the “halo effect”—the socially desirable behavior that people tell pollsters that they do, and what they actually do.

• Church attendance in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe is between 2% to 8% of the population.

• Each year approximately 4,000 new churches are opened in the U.S., but around 7,000 churches close, a net loss of 3,000 churches per year.

• American church attendance is steadily declining and is falling behind the country’s population growth. A net gain of at least 10,000 new churches per year is needed to keep up with U.S. population growth.

• Declining churches continue to decline; growing churches continue to grow: Mid-sized churches (100-299 attendees) are shrinking; the smallest (less than 50 attendees) and largest churches (2,000 plus attendees) are growing. The average sized Protestant church has about 124 attendees.

• Most church growth comes from people who leave one church to join another. Very few new attendees or members can be attributed to new converts.

• 50% of U.S. churches did not reach any new person for Christ in the last two years.

There is also bad news in the American pastoral ranks:

• About 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to stress, spiritual burnout, conflicts within their churches, or moral failure.

• 50% are so discouraged that if they had another vocation or way of earning a living, they would leave the ministry.

• 85% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for the realities of ministry.

• At least 60% of seminary and Bible school graduates leave the ministry within five years of taking their first church job.

• As much as 75% of pastors struggle with depression, worry, anger, fear, or alienation.

• 70% feel grossly underpaid.

• 90% put in 50 to 60 hours of work each week.

• 80% feel that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.

• 40% have had an extra-marital affair while in ministry.

• 25% are divorced; 50% will end in in divorce.

• 80% spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer.

• 70% said that the only time they spend studying God’s Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

• Only 13-51% of pastors—depending on their denominations—believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you’re troubled by all the bad news, don’t despair; there is also good news that will hopefully lift your spirit.

The good news—Believers are still faithful:

Despite the falling away by many people from the church (illustrated by Jesus in his parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13:1-23), many others remain faithful to life within the fellowship and community of the church.

These are the believers—the “good soil”—in whose hearts the seed of the Word of God was planted and is flourishing into a huge harvest of “thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.“(Matt. 13:23, NLT)

These are the Christian believers who are maturing in their faith and whose numbers are growing because their pastors, lay leaders, and regular members have consistently shared the Gospel with neighbors and strangers and ministered to the poor, the hurting, the sick, and the lost, and have led individuals to salvation in Jesus Christ.

These are the believers who understand that the future of the church is secure, for Jesus Christ is both the foundation (Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:11) and the head (Eph. 5:23) of the church, and he promises that nothing, not even the powers of Hell, can destroy his church (Matt. 16:18).

They understand that they are the “living stones” of the spiritual house of God (1 Pet. 2:5) with Jesus Christ as their “chief corner stone,” their Lord and Savior, and his Holy Spirit lives in them.

They demonstrate their commitment to following Christ by studying his Word, living by his teachings, obeying the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and growing to spiritual maturity and holiness through his grace and forgiveness.

And they are part of the estimated 856.4 million individuals who, according to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, continue to follow Jesus Christ in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and account for 39.2% of the world Christian population.

More good news—The church is thriving in the Global South:

God’s church is also growing, even thriving, in the “Global South”—the developing regions of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, and even to some extent in the Middle East and North Africa.

• In 1900, Korea had no Protestant church. Today, there are over 14 million Christians in South Korea. The city of Seoul alone has more than 7,000
congregations, with some having over 10,000 members.

• At the end of the 19th Century, the southern portion of Africa was only
3% Christian. Today, there are over 516.4 million Christians, accounting for 63% of the population in ten countries (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, and Madagascar). It’s estimated that 34,000 people per day are being added to the church.

• In India, 14 million of the 140 million members of the “untouchable”
caste or Dalits—the poorest and most discriminated level of Indian society—have become Christians.

• More people in the Islamic world have come to faith in Christ during the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian missions among the Muslims. Many of these people came to faith in Jesus Christ after he appeared to them in dreams and visions. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported that in 2010 there were 12.8 million Christians in the Middle East/North Africa region, consisting of 3.8% of the population.

• In Islamic Indonesia, the percentage of Christians is now so high
(around 15%) that the Muslim government will no longer print
statistics on Christians and the church.

• In China, it is estimated that there are now more self-avowed disciples
of Jesus (67 million) than members of the Communist party. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that China will soon have more Christians than any country in the world.

• Across the globe, followers of Jesus are increasing by more than 80,000 per day, led mostly through the witness of native Christians rather than by Western missionaries.

• Around 510 new churches are formed every day, most of them in the homes of believers, inspired by Jesus’ words, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20, KJV)

• Produced by Campus Crusade for Christ, the 1979 film, JESUS, has been translated into 1,145 languages, shown in over 200 countries in the peoples’ own languages, with the result that more than 200 million men, women, and children have made decisions to follow Jesus Christ.

According to the 2010 survey by the Pew Forum, all these new converts are part of the estimated 1.3 billion individuals who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and North Africa, and account for 60.8% of the world Christian population.

As we look at the growth of the church over more than 2,000 years, we are now seeing that believers are living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, obeying Jesus’ Great Commission to:

“. . . go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . . And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19, 20, NLT)

I cannot help but think—and hope—that the end of the age is near and that Jesus will soon be returning for his bride, the Church, for he has promised, “Yes, I am coming soon!” (Rev. 22:20, NLT)

And, like the Apostle John, I can only respond, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”



Church decline information came from: “ ‘Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; The National Council of Churches; 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches; The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, a 2005 study by Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves; The Barna Group; David Olson, The American Church in Crisis; Internet search.
Information on pastors came from the Barna Group; Focus on the Family; Fuller Theological Seminary; Christianity Today; Internet search.
Global North and Global South information came from: The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity; Dan Meyer, Witness Essentials; The Mission Department, Bel Air Presbyterian Church; Campus Crusade for Christ; Fuller Theological Seminary; The Outreach Foundation; Christianity Today; The William Carey School of World Mission; Internet search.

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