Posts Tagged ‘refugees’


My journey to Mai Ayni had begun a year earlier, after Dr. Rodney Hammer and I had managed to visit the Eritrean refugee camp in Northern Ethiopia. We were burdened for the needs of the 1300 unaccompanied minors living in the camp. Because of repressive conditions and little hope for education, children aged 6-16 are leaving the Eritrea to seek hope elsewhere. In Ethiopia, most are sent to Mai Ayni. This time I was armed with the generous donations of the BR-KC Baptist Association and was teamed with some Eritreans from the United States. I joined my Eritrean friends at the airport. Tomas Solomon and Efrem Kahsai have formed a 501(c)3 in the U.S. called URER or Urgent Relief of Eritrean Refugees (urer.org). We had connected and had talked several times before meeting at the airport. Along with them was Senait Tecle, an Eritrean who wanted to see firsthand the conditions and needs of the refugees so she could report back to the organization she was an integral part of, SACS. SACS is a Christian charitable organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of all those who are in chains for their faith, as well as all other prisoners of conscience in Eritrea; advancing the cause of religious freedom in Eritrea; assisting those who are suffering hardships as a result of their persecution. SACS aspires to fulfill a command to help those in need according to James 2:15-16 – “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” It also serves as a voice of the persecuted church in Eritrea through its website www.inchainsforchirst.org and to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute; speak up and defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Tomas had conversed several times with Eritreans in the camp to see what the substantive needs were. We formed a shopping list which we decided to buy in Addis. We had flights to Shire on Friday, so my arrival on Wednesday meant we had to hurry up. We also had to arrange transportation of the goods. All this proved too much to handle in 48 hours, especially since we decided to interview some young Eritrean women who had just arrived in Addis and were going to be sent to the refugee camps. These women had endured seven months of horrors in an Egyptian prison, living on one small loaf of bread a day. Their original group of 107 trying to cross the Sinai into Israel was now only 45 due to being shot by Egyptian soldiers, dying of thirst in the Sinai, or dying in prison. These girls were only 16-25 and had already experienced such sorrow. Yet they were fortunate, for my friends (staying in Addis to buy goods) interviewed another young Eritrean refugee (named Rehal) who had been with a group in the Sinai and had been captured by Bedouins. They were tortured to plead with family and friends to raise money for their release. If they could not, they were killed and body parts removed and sold on the black market. She told my friends the body parts are worth $30,000. Rehal was only 19, and her hand was black from having been burnt with liquid plastics. Muscle was exposed. She had extreme pain from nerve damage. The Bedouins had abused her so badly that they didn’t think her parts were usable  They wrapped her in a blanket and through her out like trash in an area where wild dogs roamed. Soldiers just happened to be passing by as the dogs were attacking her unconscious body. Sent to Addis, she needs medical and psychological attention that we believe is not available in Addis Ababa.

Our concern for the children in Mai Ayni is that they receive good education and decide to stay in the camp, rather than try to make it to a European Country as these women did. The dangers are too great, and the odds of them making it are too small. This is why we returned to Mai Ayni. Through contacts in the camp, and an earlier visit in July by Yonas, a member of URER, we determined to buy the following items.

  • 8 32″ LCD TV’s
  • 8 DVD Players
  • 2 Satellite Dishes and receivers (with this there is no monthly fee)
  • Medical Supplies – Diabetes testing kits and strips, bandages and analgesics.
  • Sanitary Napkins (these are in short supply and needed for teenage girls)
  • Library reference and education books
  • Art supplies
  • 6 Electric sewing machines
  • 2 Large Self-contained stereo systems
  • 3 Desktop Computers (Dell)

I also gave the women who had been in prison (and were interviewed) $100 to share among themselves to aid in paying their way to the refugee camp. ARRA (Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs was only giving each of them about $25 when the bus fare alone $17). We also handed out $25 scholarships to the top 5 students in each of the grades 5th – 8th as a way to encourage the children to stay in school and excel in their studies.

My Eritrean friends stayed in Addis until Monday, buying the goods and arranging for the two day transport to Mai Ayni. We had to hold the title to the truck in order to make sure all the goods got to Mai Ayni. So I set out on my own to the Camp. I had lost my interpreters, but was amazed how God provided them every step of the way. Arriving in Shire, I discovered that ARRA had no transportation to the camp that Friday, so I decided to travel by public transportation. The three hour bus ride was a thrill, especially with the odors (hygiene is not a priority) and constant strange looks as if I was the only white man who had ever ridden the bus to Mai Ayni.

For the next four days I enjoyed no running water, rats foraging in my $3/night hotel room, and so many flies I almost got used to them. Nights were sleepless because of constant noise and calls to prayer and who knows what that was crawling across my feet. But I loved every second of being in the camp! God connected me in a miraculous way with the Elders of the Evangelistic Church. He gave me multiple opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the children in Mai Ayni and even in the town I stayed (May Sembry). I believe I witnessed to a total of 450-500 children. Many times I would hear them say He is MY God! Many others had this expression as if they had never heard of Jesus Christ. What saddens me is that the Evangelical Church has been told by the more powerful Orthodox Church NOT to evangelize the unaccompanied children of Mai Ayni. If they come to their church of their own accord, that is OK. Jo Ann Ruble and her friends had assembled 1300 “goodie” bags that I had handed out to the children at a couple times. They were quite the “draw”. So I left about 650 with the Elders of the Evangelistic Church and told the children to go to the Evangelical Church if they wanted more.

My friends arrived in the camp Monday at 5pm, and we all stayed at the guest house of the Evangelistic Church. They even cooked dinner and breakfast for us. Ermias and Efrem were two of the Elders, and want me to return and help them put on a VBS for the children. That means returning in the summer (when it is 100 degrees and humid). They would also appreciate an overhead projector and laptop so they could show Evangelistic films like the Jesus Story. They told me that many are coming to Jesus Christ in the camp. I even met one young man (Mohammed Ali) who had converted from Islam to Jesus Christ. His new name is Stephen. His wife and son are still Muslim, so he needs our prayers.

We had a big meeting with ARRA and the camp parliament (council of all the associations). They were so excited over what we had brought. They made the comment that many people visit the camp and promise to return, but never do. They really appreciated what we had done. We had so much that they decided to send some of it to Adi Harush and Shimelba.

Since the goods were displayed in public, I know they will be used in the appropriate places. In Mai Ayni, most went to the Elementary and Intermediate Schools, as well as a Youth Center in the Camp. The women’s association was going to manage the sewing machines. I was able to go to Adi Harush and meet with their Parliament. I heard a young boy shouting and running to me. It was Eben, son of Jordan, one of the women imprisoned in Egypt. They had just arrived in Adi Harush along with 60 other refugees. This camp is only 2 years old and already 22,000 Eritreans are living there.

My friends went on to Shimelba while I returned to the hot running water of the United States. With a long layover before my flight at 10PM, I decided to go into Addis and walk around. I had two dolls left which the ladies of Hickory Grove Baptist had made. I gave 5 away to young teenage girls in Mai Ayni. They lived together in one house (they were unaccompanied minors). But there were so many girls it was hard to pick a couple without causing pain to the others. In Addis, God led me to a hospital, and then to the Head Nurse. I told her what I wanted to do. The last girl she led me to was Asma, nine years old. She looked so sad until I explained the doll was hers. Then her face lit up with a beautiful smile. Then the Head Nurse explained she was dying of AIDS. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I could hardly hold back the tears.

Great are the needs but great is our God. Sparrows are 2 for a dollar or 5 for two dollars according to Jesus. Yet His Father knows when one of them falls to the earth. How much more valuable are these little ones to Him! Will you join me in praying for God’s Justice to reign in Eritrea, so these children and families can be united again? Will you pray with me that our State Department will put pressure on the Egyptian Government to stop the abuses of the Bedouins and their own prison system?

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Moses with one wave of his staff was able to see the seas part and the seabed dry up. He was able to see the waters stand tall as if held back by a thick wall of glass. When the enemy army was crossing after them, with another wave of the rod of God, he saw the waters fall upon them and drown every soldier.

But when it came to leading this complaining horde of people across a desert land, Moses was at his wits end.

Moses and the Tent of Meeting

In Exodus 33, we find that Moses would take a tent and pitch it outside the camp, far away from the people, and there Moses sought the Lord. He called it the ʾōhel môʿēd (tent of meeting). This was the forerunner of the tabernacle. Here Moses would speak face to face with God (Ex 33:11)

When Moses would enter the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and God would speak to Moses.

When Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up, go to their tent door, and watch. And when the cloud would descend, the people would worship, each at their tent door.

Later on, when they constructed the Tabernacle according to God’s commands, it was brought within the camp, and the people worshipped there. I can’t help but wonder if Moses longed to return to that tent outside the camp…

Letter to Concerned Jewish Christians

It is a reference to the Tabernacle that the writer of Hebrews is using to address the concerns of the Jewish Christians in Hebrews 13. Here the writer makes the foundational statement which should guide these Christians, and I believe it is the foundational statement for our church.

Foundational Statement of Hebrews

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:10-16

The Problem Facing these Jewish Christians

There were pressures from the world-pressures as to how they should worship, how they should not worship. It was so much easier to follow a hybrid Christ-one who was Jewish and Christian. One who was worldly and Godly.

On the other hand, the world was becoming more antagonistic toward Christians, especially those that really followed Him. So the struggles they were facing are the same ones we face in our lives.

Two Problems

1.  Driven by formalism-How they worshiped was more important than Who they worshiped.

2.  Paralyzed by Fear – Faced expulsion or persecution-wanted to have the glory of God and stay in the safety of the camp. Their desire for comfort overwhelmed the command to risk it all.

Remember:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

If we insist on serving from a place of comfort, or a place of ‘tradition’, or a place of safety…we can not eat from the altar of Jesus Christ. We will lose out on the sweet abiding fellowship that is in Him alone.

Choice Number 1

  • Will we Die in our Religion or Die in our Devotion?

The writer addressed the plight of the Hebrews by calling their attention to those who wandered in the wilderness:

Num 13:31-14:4; Num 14:20-23, 32-34

Here the Jewish wanderers had the chance to believe in God’s Word, to embrace His power that they had witnessed first hand. However, they refused to see Him Who is able, and focused on their own weakness and inability. Instead of advancing into Canaan and trusting God to overcome the giants, they wept in bitterness and retreated from the mission God had given them.

They had two options:

  1. Retreat from the Mission

  2. Risk everything for the Mission

To risk everything requires the faith to see Him who is invisible. To risk everything requires a total disregard for personal comfort, personal safety, but an overwhelming CONFIDENCE in the power of God to allow you to finish the mission!

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

Choice Number 2

  • Will We Embrace our Comfort or Will we Embrace His Cross?

If you want to eat from this altar. If you want to experience God face to face. If you want to know the presence and power of God, you must go outside the camp. You must be willing to be disgraced just like Jesus. You must be willing to bear His disgrace.

Let us Go to Jesus …Outside the Camp

Dead and Dirty things

And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. Leviticus 16:27-28

Diseased and Despised

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46

Blasphemers

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:13-16

Dangerous

Murderers, blasphemers, adulterers were all kept and stoned outside the camp.

Do You Really Want to Follow Jesus?

Then you must go to Him OUTSIDE the camp!

  • Mission without suffering is like Christianity without a cross
  • Suffering is not a consequence of our mission: it is the central strategy for achieving our mission.

Moses met face to face with God outside the camp!

If you desire to fellowship face to face with Jesus Christ, you must meet with Him outside the camp, and bear His reproach.

Choice Number 3

  • Will We Live for Pleasure in this World or for Paradise in the World to Come?

The Truth of the Real Jesus

  • Jesus calls the church to live according to a radically different definition of success than the rest of the world.
  • Jesus calls me to live according to a radically different definition of success than the rest of the world

If we do not advance toward Jesus in our Christian walk, we:

  • Give way to formalism
  • Give way to paralyzing fear
  • Give way to a retreating spirit

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

Do we desire to stay inside the comfort of our camp? Do not count on feasting on Christ.

Believer’s can be forgiven but cursed to wander in the wilderness apart from the power and presence of God.

God does not need our church to gain glory for Himself. He will glorify His Name regardless of whether we go to the altar outside the camp.

Following Christ does not mean coming to the cross and then neatly carrying Jesus back into our safe and comfortable American lives. It means risking everything and going outside the camp to bear His reproach on His altar of total sacrifice. (A thank you to David Platt for the core points of this message)

Notation about my Faith Journey

In 2004-2005 I became burdened about the nation of Myanmar. I even went there in January 2006, and now serve as Treasurer on the Executive Board of the Friends of Burma, Inc. This all came about as I began to understand the true meaning of discipleship.

While going through a sermon series on Mark, I was struck anew with Mark 8.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35

The greatest example of these verses was the life of Adoniram Judson. I was fascinated with the truth that what he risked with his life and family was the reason for the Christians in that forsaken country today!

His life led me to became so interested and concerned about Burma (Myanmar).

Adoniram Judson is why I am going outside the camp. Adoniram Judson went outside the camp and bore the reproach of Jesus Christ.

Adoniram Judson

Once when a Buddhist teacher said that he could not believe that Christ suffered the death of the cross because no king allows his son such indignity, “Judson responded, ‘Therefore you are not a disciple of Christ. A true disciple inquires not whether a fact is agreeable to his own reason, but whether it is in the book. His pride has yielded to the divine testimony. Teacher, your pride is still unbroken. Break down your pride, and yield to the word of God.’ (Anderson, To the Golden Shore, 240.)

Judson’s conversion to Christ was due in large measure to the same deist friend who led him away from Christ. After graduation, Judson left home to become a wanderlust. One night in a country inn, his room was adjacent to the room of a dying man. The moaning and groaning of that man through the long night permitted Judson no sleep. His thoughts troubled him. All night questions assailed his soul: “Was the dying man prepared to die?” “Where would he spend eternity?” “Was he a Christian, calm and strong in the hope of life in Heaven?” “Or, was he a sinner shuddering in the dark brink of the lower region?” Judson constantly chided himself for even entertaining such thoughts contrary to his philosophy of life beyond the grave, and thought how his brilliant college friend would rebuke him if he learned of these childish worries.

But the next morning, when Judson inquired of the proprietor as to the identity of the dead man, he was shocked by the most staggering statement he had ever heard: “He was a brilliant young person from Providence College. Ernest was his name.”

Ernest was the unbeliever who had destroyed Judson’s faith. “Now he was dead — and was lost! Was lost! Was lost! Lost! Lost!” Those words raced through his brain, rang in his ears, roared in his soul — “Was lost! Lost! Lost! There and then Judson realized he was lost, too! He ended his traveling, returned home, entered Andover Theological Seminary and soon “sought God for the pardon of his soul,” was saved and dedicated his life to the Master’s service!

In Burma

But opposition came, also. Finally, Judson was imprisoned as a British spy — an imprisonment of twenty-one months. Judson was condemned to die, but in answer to prayers to God and the incessant pleadings of his wife to officials (one of the most emotional-packed, soul-stirring stories in evangelism), Judson’s life was spared and finally British intervention freed him from imprisonment.

Following the missionaries in their holy adventure, we behold scenes too horrible for words. On one occasion Judson, pitifully weak and emaciated, was driven in chains across the burning tropical sands, until, his back lacerated beneath the lash and his feet covered with blisters, he fell to the ground and prayed that the mercy of God might grant him a speedy death. For almost two years he was incarcerated in a prison too vile to house animals. He was bound with three pairs of chains and his feet were fastened in stocks which at times were elevated, so that only his shoulders touched the ground. The room, into which he and many other prisoners were crowded, was without a window and felt like a fiery furnace under the merciless glare of the tropical sun. The stench of the place was terrible, vermin crawled everywhere and the jailer, Mr. Spotted Face, was a brute in human form. And, as Judson saw other prisoners dragged out to execution, he lived in terrifying suspense and was able to say with Paul, “I die daily.”

Surely, he would have fallen and perished under the weight of his cross, except for the tender, persistent, beautiful ministrations of Ann. As often as possible, she bribed the jailer and then, under cover of darkness, crept to the door of Judson’s den, bringing food and whispering words of hope and consolation. Finally, for three long weeks she did not appear; but, upon her return, she bore in her arms a newborn baby to explain her absence. An epidemic of smallpox was raging unchecked through the city and little Maria was smitten with the dread disease. Due to the double strain of concern for her imprisoned husband and the suffering baby, Ann found herself unable to nurse the little one. Tormented by its pitiful cries, Ann took her baby up and down the streets of the city, pleading for mercy and for milk: “You women who have babies, have mercy on my baby and nurse her!”

Near the prison gate was a caged lion, whose fearful bellowings had told all that he was being starved against the day when he would be turned loose upon some of the prisoners. But the lion died of hunger before the plan was executed. Thereupon, plucky Mrs. Judson cleaned out the cage and secured permission for her husband to stay there for a few weeks, since he was critically ill with a fever.

One of the most pathetic pages in the history of Christian missions is that which describes the scene when Judson was finally released and returned to the mission house seeking Ann, who again had failed to visit him for some weeks. As he ambled down the street as fast as his maimed ankles would permit, the tormenting question kept repeating itself, “Is Ann still alive?” Upon reaching the house, the first object to attract his attention was a fat, half-naked Burman woman squatting in the ashes beside a pan of coals and holding on her knees an emaciated baby, so begrimed with dirt that it did not occur to him that it could be his own. Across the foot of the bed, as though she had fallen there, lay a human object that, at the first glance, was no more recognizable than his child. The face was of a ghastly paleness and the body shrunken to the last degree of emaciation. The glossy black curls had all been shorn from the finely-shaped head. There lay the faithful and devoted wife who had followed him so unwearily from prison to prison, ever alleviating his distresses and consoling him in his trials. Presently Ann felt warm tears falling upon her face and, rousing from her stupor, saw Judson by her side.

And there were other sorrows. Before he had been in Burma fourteen years he buried Ann and all of his children. But “the love that never fails” sustained him. “If I had not felt certain,” he says, “that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Judson joined with Paul in declaring: “The love of Christ constraineth me … Therefore I will glory in reproaches, in persecution and in distresses for Christ’s sake.”[2]

The work progressed and gospel power began to open blind eyes, break idolatry-shackled hearts and transform the newly-begotten converts into triumphant Christians. On April 12, 1850, at the age of 62, Judson died. Except for a few months (when he returned to America after thirty-four years from his first sailing), Judson had spent thirty-eight years in Burma. Although he had waited six years for his first convert, sometime after his death a government survey recorded 210,000 Christians, one out of every fifty-eight Burmans! It was a partial fulfillment and a monument to the spirit and ministry of the man, who at Ava, the capital city, gazed at the temple of Buddha and challenged, “A voice mightier than mine, a still small voice, will ere long sweep away every vestige of thy dominion. The churches of Jesus Christ will soon supplant these idolatrous monuments and the chanting devotees of Buddha will die away before the Christian’s hymns of praise.”[1]

Will You Go Outside the Camp?

My question is, if Christ delays his return another two hundred years – a mere fraction of a day in his reckoning – which of you will have suffered and died so that the triumphs of grace will be told about one or two of those 3,500 peoples who are in the same condition today that the Karen and Chin and Kachins and Burmese were in 1813? Who will labor so long and so hard and so perseveringly that in two hundred years there will be two million Christians in many of the 10/40-window peoples who can scarcely recall their Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist roots?

May God use his powerful word and the life of Adoniram Judson to stir many of you to give your lives to this great cause!

We must keep advancing to Him, to His altar which is outside the camp!