The Coronavirus shows the world what is in us

The church has always had an interesting history concerning plagues and viruses.

It is not a history of self-preservation.

As I wrote in my book, The Whole Life Offering:

 

Hospitals owe their origin to the plethora of plagues and epidemics that struck the ancient world with alarming regularity and force. Observes author Rob Moll, “When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.”

The early church responded not only out of compassion, adds Moll citing Christian medical history professor Gary Ferngren, but out of a worshipful recognition that every cast-out body bore the Imagio Dei—the image of God. The church sought to restore that image to vitality through the practice of the Works of Mercy, first in private homes and then, as the tide of desperation and disease swamped the ancient world, in “hospitals” designed for comprehensive care. If restoration proved impossible, Christians provided comfort and burial at the cost of their own health, safety, and finances.

When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote, according to Ferngren, “that presbyters, deacons, and laymen took charge of the treatment of the sick, ignoring the danger to their own lives.”

Even in times of plague and virus, our bodies remain our main tool for ministry. Sending things like masks and donations to Coronavirus-infected areas in China is good. Regarding Chinese people, wherever we may encounter them, as bearers of the image of God rather than possible bearers of the Coronavirus, is better.

We ought never to be careless in any kind of ministry. But knowingly giving up our comfort and safety in the service of the Lord should never be regarded as synonymous with carelessness. Real ministry is by definition always lethal to our own self-preservation; we find our lives only through losing them. Whether entering quarantined areas or extending friendship and basic care to individuals outcasted by suspicion of disease, Christians have a history of paying the ultimate personal cost to serve the other in love. This is what has prompted others for two millennia to ask, “What love is this?”

In the end, no mask can mask what is in our hearts. When the Lord Jesus is in our hearts, we will always unmask ourselves in ways the world can’t fathom. I wear a mask when I travel, but I must always be careful not to pull it up over my eyes. To do so would be to court a far greater infection that ends in a far worse death.

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Trapped between government troops and rebels, Cameroon pastors receive trauma care

Dr. Foley and I traveled to Cameroon in December to conduct an emergency Christian trauma recovery training event for pastors from the western region of the country.

Persecution caught these pastors by surprise.

There is a civil war happening now in Western Cameroon between a secessionist rebel group and the regular army. The pastors there are determined to stay out of politics; to simply preach the gospel and care for their churches and families. But that has caused the rebels and the government troops to be suspicious of the pastors. Both sides treat them as spies. As a result, life has become extremely difficult for the pastors. As villages are burned down, pastors’ churches and homes are destroyed. The pastors move their families to the capital city, but they themselves stay in the war zone, without the support of their denominations. They live in tents in the jungle without a salary and minister to the people on both sides of the conflict. Gunfire is a daily occurrence. They are frequently interrogated by both sides. Sometimes they are kidnapped. This has gone on for almost two years. The result is an unimaginably high level of trauma for the pastors of Western Cameroon.

We received an urgent summons from a VOM sister mission late last year for Dr. Foley to come and teach Christian trauma recovery to the pastors. Trauma recovery for persecuted Christians is an extremely rare specialty. Our sister VOM knew that Dr. Foley had taught trauma recovery in similar circumstances to persecuted Christians from North Korea, China, Eritrea, and Sri Lanka.

It was a huge help to the 15 pastors in attendance, and it will be a huge help to the hundreds of church members these pastors will now be able to help.

“You saw us weeping,” wrote the pastors in a statement of appreciation presented to Dr Foley at the completion of the four-day intensive training, “but by the promises in God’s Word through your ministration has brought us hope to continue with the Word of God.”

Dr. Foley received her master’s degree in clinical counseling with a specialization in trauma care from Colorado Christian University in the United States. The program was started by Dr. Larry Crabb with an emphasis on biblical counseling but was further developed to meet the requirements for clinical licensing. In addition to teaching trauma recovery directly to persecuted Christians, Dr Foley has also trained individuals to counsel persecuted Christians at international events in Belgium and Thailand.

Dr. Foley says that both biblical counseling and clinical counseling are needed to meet the needs of persecuted Christians like the pastors of Western Cameroon. “These pastors are unarmed materially, emotionally, and spiritually. We must help them (and their families) recover in each of these areas of their life. and We must also train them to be able to help the families in their churches to recover.”

Dr Foley and I believe that the global church must treat trauma recovery as a foundational mission to countries where Christians are persecuted. Until pastors and church members in these countries recover from trauma, they cannot effectively use the humanitarian aid or church building assistance that is usually provided by the global church to places like this.

We are scheduled to travel to Africa again later this month to lead a trauma recovery session for Eritrean Christians, widely regarded as among the world’s most persecuted. Dr Foley will then lead a similar session at an undisclosed location in March for traumatized Chinese Christians.

If you’re interested in making a donation to VOMK’s trauma recovery ministry for persecuted Christians can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation (select “Families of Martyrs and Prisoners” from the donation option menu) or via electronic transfer to
국민은행 463501-01-243303
예금주: (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “FOM” (for “Families of Martyrs”) on the transfer.

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New 2020 guidelines strengthen Communist Party control over China’s churches and public schools

New guidelines are now going into effect to strengthen Communist Party control over what is taught in China’s state churches and public schools.

The State Administration of Religious Affairs released in November Order 13, the “Administrative Measures for Religious Groups” to go into effect February 1. Article 17 of that Order states: “Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Then on Tuesday January 7, the Communist Party issued guidelines for Chinese primary through high schools banning the use of foreign teaching materials. The guidelines also require that all curriculum undergo political review to ensure that it promotes the “spirit of Xi Jinping Thought” and traditional Chinese cultural values. 

Chinese Christians cannot turn to state churches for true discipleship, nor can they entrust their children to Chinese schools. At both school and church, they are now taught that Xi Jinping, not Jesus Christ, is effectively the Lord of China.

But the new policies may ultimately benefit the cause of Christianity in China. No matter what Chinese schools and state churches teach, Jesus Christ is Lord, and he is using all things for the good of Chinese Christians. For a while, there was a trend in Chinese churches toward Christian education being done in megachurches by pastors and trained professionals, just like in Korea. But we see God using the increasingly severe governmental restrictions to cause more Chinese Christians to take responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of their own children.

Now the greatest need is to equip parents for this task.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea and its US partner China Aid become aware of this movement toward parent-led discipleship in China when leaders representing several hundred churches in 30 provinces of China approached us last year with a request to supply 5,000 “Sunday School in a Box” packages within 12 months. The church leaders envisioned a package consisting of materials that are still legal in some locations in China but not readily available: the leading legal children’s Bible in China, a compact video player, and a comprehensive curriculum of digital resources for parents and children.

Instead of importing foreign materials—which these new laws in China strongly oppose—Chinese church leaders developed a strategy that makes the project much more difficult for Chinese authorities to detect or shut down.

So far VOM Korea and China Aid and many of our sister VOM missions around the world have supplied funds for 2,500 boxes. The confidential acquisition and distribution efforts have begun inside China. The operation has begun not a moment too soon: Now that the new restrictions for state churches and schools have gone into effect, the wisdom and foresight of these the Chinese church leaders can be seen: Parents discipling their own children has always been Christ’s plan for his church. Now it is the only hope for the Chinese church. VOMK and China Aid are urgently raising funds for the remaining 2,500 boxes to be sent within the next six months.

The cost for one Sunday School in a Box is 75,000 KRW, or $75USD. Korean churches and individuals interested in making a donation to the Sunday School in a Box project can do so at https://vomkorea.com/en/campaign/ssib/ or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 463501-01-243303

예금주: (사)순교자의소리

Please include the phrase “SSIB” (for “Sunday School in a Box”) on the transfer.

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