Mission to a Christian Persecuted Country in Asia

World Changers on Mission: Part 3 of 4

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Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are acting as the Lord’s hands and feet in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia

As I learned from attending the Ethnos Asian Ministries (EAM) conference in Thailand, spiritual darkness is the norm in many countries in Asia, especially those identified as the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA). My mission journey continued after the conference to one of those not-to-be-identified Asian countries, further referred to as “Country”, that was suffering from severe spiritual oppression. I was blessed with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to walk among Buddhists while cloaking my Christian faith under the disguise of a tourist.

Our mission was to encourage and bring 2 days of training to Christian pastors across the Country. Luke [pseudo], the EAM Country Pastor, called in 50 pastors of the underground church from across the country to convene with our team at his church. Our team sponsored their transportation, lodging, and food for this time of connection.

When our team of 10 arrived in Country, I was impressed with its beauty and how the people welcomed its guests. We got to explore the town, settle into our hotel, and ask lots of questions about the culture.

Saturday: First Day in the Country Mission Field

On the first morning I wondered where we would be training. We drove a short distance and parked in front of a multi-level tenement. Where were we? We’re here! Where’s here? The guide pointed toward an open doorway.

We walked breathlessly up 5 flights of stairs until we reached the top-level. Piles of shoes were scattered in front of a closed door on the left. Behind the door in front of us was a bathroom. And the third door to the right was open with much food prep and conversation by women cooking in the kitchen. This enclosed area also included a bedroom, office, and more bathrooms.

The fifth floor of the building, which would normal house 2 apartments, had been converted into a church and its administration areas. We heard music coming through the door on the left and took off our shoes to enter. What would have been an apartment with several rooms was converted into one big area with a small stage of instruments and pulpit and carpets laid out for the congregation to sit.

The praise and worship on a Saturday morning had already started with the voices of 50 pastors and 20 church members. With only an estimated 12,000 Christians in this country, we felt awed to be fellow-shipping with so many at one time. We were told some pastors spoke English, but we had hired a translator, Kevin [pseudo], to ensure our messages were understood. Kevin was originally from Indian, 10 years a pastor, with a wife and son living in the United States. He was working towards a VISA so he could join his wife. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my husband for such a length of time, but these are the common stories of those with restricted freedoms.

The initial plan was team introductions, then half the team would stay to train, and the other half would tour the city. The next day the team members would reverse after the church service. After the greetings and team introductions, John [pseudo] led an ice-breaker to get the pastors interacting as many did not know one another. He asked each pastor to share (1) a personal fact, (2) a gift or passion, (3) a hope/need for the training, and (4) a hope/need for 2019. I loved hearing the cacophony of conversations in the room as the pastors opened to one another.

As everyone settled cross-legged on the floor, Andrew [pseudo] and Sarah [pseudo] delivered a combined message about fear and our identity in Christ. I briefly added how I too had an irrational fear of public speaking. Satan will always attack you where God wants to use you most for His glory. I knew I had to overcome my fear of public speaking, because God wanted to use me to help others through my training, words, and messages.

The remainder of the day was earmarked for Darin and me to share on the topics of (1) leadership, (2) marriage strengthening, (3) sharing the Gospel, and (4) spiritual warfare. Having a marriage ministry, we decided to start with relationship strengthening. Little could we have imagined that we’d be closing the day without even finishing the topic. The pastors were thirsty for this information, and Kevin couldn’t have delivered the content any better with his humor and passion.

The touring half of the team returned to the church, and we ended the day by breaking the team into men and women, so we could minister to their gender needs. I wasn’t privy to what the men did with the pastors, but the women crammed into one big bedroom with their children, and Nancy [pseudo] led a discussion about the Father’s love through the concept of love letter. The women were excited to receive their Love-Faith-Hope necklace and small gift bags. Because women are treated as second-class citizens in this culture, they are in desperate need of encouragement. It’s common for husbands to have mistresses with wives getting seconds, and we wanted to make these women feel special even if only for an hour.

The team was happily exhausted by the end of the day, because we were able to serve our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Going into this mission, I thought “leadership” would have been the most sought after topic. Who knows, it may have been, but we never got the chance to deliver it. Marriage strengthening was definitely on their minds once the pastors got a taste of it.

We said our good-byes, grabbed dinner, shopped, and then drove back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. As Darin and I laid in bed about to turn out the light, our room phone rang. Hello? It was our team leader. Mary [pseudo] said she’d just gotten off the phone with Pastor Luke, who’d debriefed with the pastors. All 50 pastors said they only wanted to hear more about marriage. Others team members would give up slots, if Darin and I would dive into marriage strengthening for a second day. We were there for the pastors, so yes, we would make it happened. I hung up the phone and turned to Darin, “We’ve got some brainstorming to do.” Within a short period of time, we’d developed an outline of more material we could cover.

Sunday: Second Day in the Country Mission Field

“Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!” Excited for another day in this beautiful country, fellow-shipping with beautiful people. I just wished I could take them home to the United States, even for a brief time, so they could experience the peace of openly professing and sharing their faith. I can only imagine how wonderful the contrast must be to someone who must always suppress their beliefs.

When we returned to church the second day, the team was greeted with smiles and many more faces. A Sunday service and the message that our team was in town, drew more women, men, and children into the church. It was standing room only with about 120 people. After praise and worship, Mark [pseudo] gave a sermon about love, and then Susan [pseudo], along with the Sunday school teacher, escorted the kids to the big bedroom for an age-appropriate lesson. I knew there was a reason I packed my favorite fable, The Three Trees. Susan used the story as part of her time with the kids.

Darin and I were up on stage once again, writing on the white board while the pastors took notes. We continued with the 5 Love Languages and His Needs/Her Needs. We were surprised to learn that the local language didn’t have a word for “romantic”. In this culture there are few romantic terminologies. Sorry ladies!

We then talked about Biblical marriage, and I emphasized that Christians need to look to the Bible for God’s definition of a successful marriage and how to treat our spouse. Satan owns the earthly world and will distorted the role of man, woman, and marriage. Afterwards, the pastors wanted our notes and told us that they felt more equipped to handle married couples, who were coming to them with marriage problems.

When Pastor Luke wrapped up the day, I did appreciate his “assumptive close” as he shared that the pastors were looking forward to our return next year, so they bring their wives. We’d love to host a couples’ workshop, but unfortunately, God put a vision on our hearts for next year to bring marriage strengthening to the African nations. I would love to return to this country within the next couple of years to further invest in these folks who so enthusiastically want more.

Our goodbyes were bitter sweet. What a wonderful journey to this country to meet so many of my geographically separated brothers and sisters. I will miss them, but at the same time I know that I’ll see them again. They are family who just live half way across the world and where we don’t get to spend every Christmas and Easter together.

What Did God Show Me?

God always shows me a truth or gives me a message when I go into the mission field, and this mission was no exception. He showed me once again how thirsty the third world countries are for marriage strengthening. We had an indication of this when we went to Bogota, Columbia in July 2018 and were guest marriage speakers at the Coffee for Two church event. The EAM mission solidified that marriage message.

About 9 months ago, God also put a Marriage Vision 2020 on our hearts to take the perspectives and tools that we use for our marriage ministry to east Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania). The thirst of the pastors in this country overwhelmingly validated what we are called to do. Although Africa is in our sights for next year, we told our team leader we could return to Asia in 2021 to deliver more marriage strengthening and spend 2-3 days in 3 or 4 ARNA countries.

When you cry out to have a meaningful versus a comfortable life, God will stretch you and take you places beyond your imagination. I expect to be stretched in how to develop and unfold the marriage strengthening material into third world cultures where (1) women have a different status than men, (2) tribal affiliations create barriers, and (3) where socioeconomic caste systems create divergent lens in how to view marriage. As confident as I feel about delivering marriage strengthening to America couples, I believe I am early on the learning curve to take it to the nations.

To learn more about Ethnos Asia Ministries and their work in the ARNA field, visit www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Christian Persecuted Countries of Asia: Update in the Region

World Changers on Mission: Part 2 of 4

If you got out a world map, would you be able to place your finger on the country of Nepal? What about Bangladesh? Or what about the small country of Bhutan, which is the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Like most Americans, I feel geographically challenged with countries half way around the world, which explains why I also feel disconnected from what’s going on in that region. Ethnos Asia Ministries (EAM) changed my perspective through the stories told by underground Christian pastors from each of the countries in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA).

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I’ve been a Christian for almost a decade, heard accounts of Christian persecution, and attributed most of the horror stories to radical ISIS followers. What I learned was the ugliness of Christian persecution is wielded by Satan’s grip on the hearts and minds of government leaders and citizens who live in fear. At the EAM conference, stories unfolded of the struggles and successes in bringing the Gospel to the unreached tribes. My learning curve is steep, and my words limited, so in the interest of only starting the conversation, I will share a few points about each ARNA country with the hopes that your heart would be stirred by the Holy Spirit to learn more and act on God’s calling.

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Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are acting as the Lord’s hands and feet in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia

East Asia

China: Socialist Republic—1.3 billion people—50% don’t identify with any religion

  • Christianity still growing despite the government’s control; the middle class has a strong spiritual hunger for the Lord
  • Anyone preaching the Gospel without a government license can be fined $1500 US and a property owner, where underground house church services are held, can be fined $3000 US
  • Facial recognition cameras are installed in all churches so pastors cannot leave the country

North Korea: Socialist Republic—25 million people—99% atheists

  • Rampant poverty and 80% of children are undernourished
  • Christians considered hostile elements in society with the government as the primary driver of persecution
  • Freedom of religion and its ceremonies are constitutionally guaranteed but are government restricted. Only 4 government-sanctioned churches exist and are used as a showcase for foreigners

Himalayan Region

Bhutan: Constitutional Monarchy—0.7 million people—75% Buddhist

  • Wangchuk dynasty has ruled Bhutan for over a century and only allowed its first tourists in 1974
  • Bhutanese Christians face loss of citizenship, free education, health care, employment and access to utilities. Despite harassment and beatings, groups of believers are increasing
  • Buddhism, animism, and mysticism have dominated the country since the 7th century with a non-Buddhist typically practicing Hinduism

Nepal: Parliamentary Republic—29 million people—80% Hindu

  • Over 125 languages spoken among 125 ethnic groups/castes
  • Christian population small but growing with each of the 75 districts having a church plant
  • Fastest growing Christian population in the Himalayan region
  • Religious freedom is allowed under Nepalese law, but restrictions are imposed on non-Hindu groups in which Christians can be fined and imprisoned for sharing their faith

Northeast India: Parliamentary Republic—45 million people—55% Hindu

  • Many young people are moving to mainland India for study and work
  • No opposition to spreading the Gospel but experiencing a general spiritual decline
  • The three major Christian denominations are Baptists, Catholics, and Presbyterians

Indian Subcontinent

Afghanistan: Islamic Republic—34 million people—99% Muslim

  • Widespread child marriage and serious drug problems with the country growing 90% of the world’s opium producing poppies
  • Blasphemy is punishable by death for males over 18 and girls over 16 years and conversion of Islam can be punishable by death
  • Majority of Muslim’s are Sunni (80%) and Shia (15%) with limited numbers of Christians
  • Most Afghans live in poverty with little employment, so those who fight for the Taliban do so for wages

Bangladesh: Parliamentary Republic—159 million people—90% Muslim

  • Country is quite secular although culturally the citizens observe Muslim festivals like Ramadan and take the pilgrimage to Mecca
  • The constitution permits freedom of religion but conversion, openly sharing the Gospel, and criticizing Islam is not allowed
  • Bawm tribe celebrated 100 years of Christianity in 2018

Maldives: Presidential Republic—0.3 million people—99% Muslim

  • Has one of the highest divorce rates in the world with rising crime, gang activity, child abuse, and pervasive drug use
  • While some freedoms have expanded through democracy, Islam is the official and only religion
  • Traditional belief in spirits combined with Islam leave many citizens trapped in fear and no access to the Gospel in these isolated islands
  • Visitors can bring their Bible and practice religion at home but cannot invite a Maldives citizen to join

Pakistan: Constitutional Republic—207 million people—96% Muslim

  • Most heroin-addicted country in the world
  • Has the most notorious blasphemy laws against Christians and is the center of the unevangelized world
  • Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, this is the world’s most persecuted nation for Christians
  • Most women have never been to school and children are arranged to be married at 7. Wives see their husbands on their wedding night and can be returned because of their skin color

Sri Lanka: Constitutional Republic—2 million—70% Buddhist

  • Significant increases in alcoholism, suicide, violence, and rape
  • Converts from Buddhism and Hinduism suffer the most discrimination in the form of harassment, discrimination, and marginalization from family and community
  • Converting a Muslim to Christianity can invoke capital punishment

Indo-China

Cambodia: Constitutional Monarchy—16 million—97% Buddhist

  • Rapid adoption to the Western lifestyle of materialism in the city and rampant drug use
  • Freedom to worship and preach the Gospel with young people comprising 80% of the church members
  • Islam is perceived as gentle because Islamic militancy has not yet influenced Muslims in the country

Laos: Socialist Republic—7 million people—65% Buddhist

  • Run by the communist party and led by eleven people
  • Thai culture has a heavy influence because of similar language
  • Government-approved Lao National church plants numbered 100 in 2018 and hundreds more of underground churches
  • Buddhism is considered a Lao religion and Christians need government permit to celebrate any Christian festival

Myanmar: Constitutional Republic—55 million people—90% Buddhist

  • Drug production second to Afghanistan; opium and methamphetamine are widespread
  • Many churches have buildings but fail to reach out to surrounding areas
  • Rohingya, refugee community, are Muslim minority of 1 million not recognized as citizens
  • Infighting for Buddhist positions between older and young monks

Thailand: Constitutional Republic—68 million people—95% Buddhist

  • Thai, Buddhism, and nationality tightly intertwined which hinders the conversation to Christianity
  • Monks receive special status and government benefits

Vietnam: Socialist Republic—97 million people—no faith declaration

  • Persecution is not as intense as it has been in previous years
  • Buddhism is still the predominant religions along with Cao Dai and Hoa Hao

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What Now?

Pray! Across these 15 Asian countries, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Muslim are keeping their citizens in spiritual darkness by squeezing tighter around their minds, hearts, and souls. Pray for the people of these nations who live in fear and ignorance, that they may hear the Gospel and know the love of Jesus. Pray that Christians will be invited and willingly go into these countries to share the Gospel. Pray for spiritual revival and the Holy Spirit to sweep through these Asian countries. Pray that the lives of Christians will shine in contrast to the hatred and prejudice of extremists and draw people towards Christ.

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To learn more about how Ethnos Asia Ministries, their mission, vision, and goals visit www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air in the Persecuted Christian Countries of Asia

World Changers on Mission: Part 1 of 4

I belong to the tribe of America, which means I enjoy the rights of free speech and choice of religion without government interference. Having been born and raised in the United States, to a certain extent I take these freedoms for granted. Why so? I suppose because I haven’t had to personally fight for them like the Pilgrims did when they fled Europe and crossed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago to escape religious persecution.

IMG_9334AI recently attended the Ethnos Asian Ministry’s (EAM) conference in Thailand which opened by eyes to the persecution that most of the world faces with regards to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Thailand, a country that sits in the middle of the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA), retains a spirit of religious freedom. You may wonder how Christians suffer in neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

Some ARNA Christians are labelled traitors to their culture, family, and community. Persecution can range from rude comments to physical violence, property seizure, church destruction, and eviction from their homes. Arrest and imprisonment are all common retribution. Many cannot trust their own families, who are encouraged to turn them into the authorities for a reward. Many believers in Indochina have lost everything but their faith in Jesus. Would you have the strength and courage to believe and serve Jesus in the midst of this type of persecution? How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the love of Jesus?

In this multi-part series, I’ll share more about the dynamics of countries that restrict or persecute Christians, what it’s like to go into an ARNA country as a devout Christ follower, and an organization whose mission is to strengthen and serve the Body of Christ in these countries. Do not be discouraged, because even with all these challenges, the Lord of the Harvest continues to win soles.

Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air

On my first day in Thailand, a religiously tolerant country within ARNA, I took a bike tour around the city to learn more about the culture, its religious tendencies, and celebrations. In comparison to other Asian countries, it boasts more tourism and shopping destinations with above par infrastructure and mass transportation systems. I also found the people friendly, helpful, and hardworking, which might be explained by their belief in Karma—a person’s actions in this and previous lives decide his or her fate in future existence.

Thai people, Buddhism, and their nationality are inseparable with 95% of the population claiming to be Buddhist, 4% as Muslim, and a mere 0.5% as Christian. I asked our tour guide, Wit, how the Thai would respond if another Thai claimed to be a Christian. He answered, “They would say, wow. They would be amazed, because it’s so uncommon.”

Our tour took us into a few Buddhist temples, and Wit helped us navigate through the rituals so we wouldn’t offend a Buddha. Take off your shoes, step over the threshold, bring your offerings of food and flowers to place before Buddha. Monks wearing red cloaks walked everywhere. What can monks do and not do? It depends on what religious order they belong to.

DSC02617Similar to other religions, which have denominations ranging from orthodox to liberal, monks have similar hierarchies. Some cannot touch money or women and are dependent on others for gifts of survival. Others embrace the use of cell phones and buying food as a necessity of the times. One thing is certain. Monks get special treatment by the government including free use of public transportation and special seating status equivalent to pregnant, elderly, and injured.

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Who can become a monk? Any male can become a monk. Many parents encourage their sons toward the monastery, so they can ride their son’s coat-tails into heaven. How long do monks have to serve? In recent times and with the pressure to provide for their families, some men take only 2 weeks off from work to become a monk. Although his plan was to be a monk for 3 months, Wit said he lasted only one week. It’s fashionable to be a monk at least once in your lifetime.

Our tour of the local markets overwhelmed us with food, flavors, and flowers. Flowers are shipped into the cities from the countryside to be used for offerings to Buddha and weddings. I thought of Biblical times when families brought their best sheep to the temple as a sacrifice. With Buddhism it’s less messy and more colorful. Thailand has a whole economy sustained by the growing and offering of flowers to Buddha.

Why is it difficult for me to embrace Buddhism? My tongue in cheek answer is that my memory just isn’t good enough to keep track of all the gods. Wit told us there are 37 gods. Another person told us there were millions of gods. Did Wit forget some?

I’d rather nurture my personal relationship with Jesus. It feels real, close, and loving, and I only need to keep track of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I can manage that.

Learn more about the Access Restricted Nations of Asia by visiting Ethnos Asia Ministries (EAM) at http://www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Are You Taking Your Faith for Granted?


♦♦ Shh! I can’t talk about it. ♦♦

What? My Christian faith Why? Because I might be beaten, homeless, or without a country How? Because it’s the law


take for grantedThat—is the truth—for many Christians in Access-Restricted Nations in Asia—commonly referred to as “ARNA”. In many countries across the world, and especially in America, we have the freedom of religious choice, its expression as long as we don’t infringe on others’ freedoms, and many legal protections. Sadly, there are several countries in Asia where Christianity is a crime, and Christians are subject to physical torture, mental harassment, and denial of school admissions, traveling abroad, bank loans, utilities, trade/business licenses, civil service promotions, and gainful employment. The government won’t issue citizenship certificates to Christians, and they are excluded from the census. In many ways, Christians in ARNA are displaced people—people without a country.

Persecution and Suffering

As a Christ follower, who loves the Lord with all my heart, I need to ask myself, “Could I withstand this level of persecution and still profess my faith to the leaders of my community and country?” It’s almost unimaginable to Americans, and I believe no Christian could ever know what  he or she would do until faced with that situation. Given that many Christians, even today, are persecuted while others enjoy asylum, have you seriously asked yourself whether you’re taking your faith for granted. There are populations who pay a heavy price for the gift of salvation and would trade shoes with those who can openly express their love of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Mission

I have an intense curiosity to learn more about my Christian brothers and sisters living nearly 10,000 miles away and in fear of “being found out” as they continue to fulfill God’s command to go make disciples and spread the Good News. I want to know more about my Christian family—what they suffer, what they believe, how they live and remain hopeful. I have to go and give them whatever encouragement I can to not grow weary and not give up the fight.

In a few weeks I will be traveling with a team to an ARNA country. I will be packing teachings, a few goodies, and my encouragement, and I hope to bring back their stories. I wish I could share more publicly about where we will go, who we will see, and what we plan on doing, but anonymity protects our brothers and sisters.

Please pray for the team’s safety, health, and ability to make a difference in the lives of the people in ARNA

Perhaps it’s been while since you prayed, opened the Bible, or even attended church service. Don’t worried or fearful. God’s patiently waiting to hear from you and ready to celebrate—just like the father of the prodigal son.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com