Meet the Christian Family Behind Free Burma Rangers

The Eubank family offers food, shelter, and medicine on the frontlines in Iraq and Burma.

In northwest Mosul, an Iraqi civilian preparing to clamber through a hole in a wall hands a swaddled baby to an American man wearing a dusty combat uniform. The American, Dave Eubank, is not a soldier. All around them, Iraqis hurry past, carrying children and crying out to each other as they flee approaching ISIS militants. Eubank tenderly passes the baby off to another Iraqi, remaining calm amid the chaos.

This turbulent scene opens a new documentary, Free Burma Rangers (Deidox Films and Lifeway Films), directed by Brent Gudgel and Chris Sinclair and playing in select US theaters February 24 and 25. Formerly a US Special Forces operative, Eubank is the head of Christian humanitarian service movement Free Burma Rangers (FBR). All five members of the Eubank family have spent much of their lives in war-torn areas of Burma, Sudan, Iraq, and Syria, sometimes at or near the frontlines of fighting, to answer what they believe is God’s call to free the oppressed.

FBR supplies emergency medical care, shelter, food, clothing and human rights documentation to people in war zones, often where other relief groups do not venture. Many Rangers are persecuted Christians from Burma (also known as Myanmar), who joined the group when Eubank formed it with his wife, Karen, in 1997 to aid and rescue Burmese minorities from oppression by their military government. The couple’s children Sahale (19), Suuzanne (17), and Peter (14) grew up in Burma and have assisted Dave and Karen in aspects of the relief efforts for as long as they’ve been old enough to help.

FBR was one of the first humanitarian groups to aid civilians in Mosul, Iraq, a former ISIS stronghold. And it was one of the last groups remaining at the Syrian-Turkish border …

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Report: L’Arche Founder Jean Vanier Abused Multiple Women

Independent investigation found at least six victims were coerced into sex by the celebrated Catholic leader, who died last year.

L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, who helped improve conditions for the developmentally disabled in multiple countries over half a century, sexually abused at least six women, a report produced for his French-based charity has found.

According to the report released by L’Arche International Saturday, the women’s descriptions provide evidence enough to show that Vanier engaged in “manipulative sexual relationships” over a period from 1970 to 2005, usually with a “psychological hold” over the alleged victims. Vanier, a respected Catholic figure and Canadian, died last year at age 90.

“The alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,” the report said. It did not rule out potential other victims.

None of the women was disabled, a significant point given the Vatican has long sought to portray any sexual relationship between religious leaders and other adults as consensual unless there was clear evidence of disability. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, however, have forced a recognition that power imbalances such as those in spiritual relationships can breed abuse.

During the inquiry, commissioned by L’Arche last year and carried out by the independent, UK-based GCPS Consulting group, six adult, non-disabled women said Vanier had engaged in sexual relations with them as they were seeking spiritual direction.

According to the report, the women, who have no links to each other, reported similar facts and Vanier’s sexual misconduct was often associated with alleged “spiritual and mystical justifications.”

A statement released by L’Arche France Saturday stressed that some women …

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I Assumed Science Had All the Answers. Then I Started Asking Inconvenient Questions.

My journey from atheist dogma to Christian faith was paved with intellectual and spiritual surprises.

I had an unusual childhood for an American. Members of my extended family were union organizers and left-wing radicals, and my parents had even been members of the American Communist Party. My indoctrination in the dogmas of communism and atheism was deep and long lasting. At the same time, my father gave me a love of science and reason, and he taught me the importance of asking questions. These gifts, along with my training in scientific thought and research, eventually cracked open the prison cell that held my soul captive during those early years.

Breaking free was a slow process, akin to chipping away at a dungeon door with a dull spoon. Early on in life, my curiosity led me to ask questions. I saw contradictions in some of what I had been taught. If humans were a blind product of evolutionary chance, with no special purpose or significance, then how could the stated goals of socialism—to advance human dignity and value—make sense? And if religion, particularly Christianity, was really such a terrible historical evil, then why were so many Christian clergy members involved in the civil rights movement?

As I studied science and began my research career in biochemistry and molecular biology, I formed a passionate attachment to a life of knowledge rooted in the scientific worldview. I found comfort and joy in the beauty, complexity, and wisdom of the scientific description of reality. But I also began wondering whether there might be something more to human existence than science and pure reason.

Surprising Discoveries

At this point, the question of faith was off the table. I knew that evolution was true and the Bible (which I hadn’t actually read) was false. I knew that a supernatural god living in the sky …

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The New Face of Medical Missions

The missionary physicians of the 21st century will be Africans—and US missions agencies couldn’t be happier.

As the rainy season nears an end in Africa’s Rift Valley, the boys harvesting avocados start falling out of trees. If a boy breaks a bone, he may go to Kibuye Hope, a rural mission hospital in the East African nation of Burundi. There, for the first time in the 73-year history of the hospital, he may receive care from a full-time, permanent missionary surgeon who is Burundian.

That surgeon, Alliance Niyukuri, joined the missionary staff of Kibuye Hope in 2018, moving his family to its residences after he completed his medical training in Gabon. He is one of the first 100 graduates from the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS).

“I’m hoping that my presence here can encourage other Burundians and allow me to be a role model to students coming to the mission hospital,” Niyukuri said. “The Lord is [calling] more and more young graduates like me, calling us also to serve in the mission hospitals.”

Niyukuri is part of a long-hoped-for cohort of African missionary doctors serving in their native regions. It is the result of a larger shift in medical missions strategies that many organizations started making a few decades ago to train and empower Africans to practice medicine. The organizations recognized the potential of the Christians in Africa and sought new ways to deal with the continued shortage of doctors.

“The vision in the late 1990s was audacious,” said Mike Chupp, CEO of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, a US professional group that sponsors overseas medical missions and partnered with Loma Linda University to start PAACS in 2003. “It was, by 2020, to graduate 100 general surgeons in Africa for Africa.”

This is no small undertaking. It …

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We Need to Read the Bible Jesus Read

The Old Testament is vital for understanding the New Testament. It’s also indispensable all by itself.

The Old Testament has always been an easy target for critics of Christianity. On the surface, its harsh moral codes and ancient cultural norms come across today as obsolete at best, barbaric at worst. While this is hardly new, it has led recently to louder calls to downplay its significance, such as when prominent pastor Andy Stanley suggested in 2018 that Christians should “unhitch” the Old Testament from their theology. But many Bible experts disagree. This is the first in a six-part series of essays from a cross-section of leading scholars revisiting the place of the “First Testament” in contemporary Christian faith.

—The Editors

Already in the second century, the arch-heretic Marcion pressed this question and came to the conclusion that the Old Testament offered almost nothing to Christianity. He was excommunicated for his views. In the 20th century, the Nazis enacted a remarkably successful elimination of the Old Testament from Christian faith and countless “German Christians” followed suit—to horrific ends. In more recent days, preachers from micro-congregations to multi-campus megachurches struggle with what to do with the Old Testament. Many do their best, many less than that. Some see no way forward but to “unhitch” the two testaments of the Christian Bible.

All of this difficulty with the Old Testament is unfortunate because every page of the New Testament depends on it—extensively, almost exclusively. The very first verse of Matthew is a case in point: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (ESV). Without the Old Testament, readers have no clue what “Christ” means, who David and Abraham …

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Polyamory: Pastors’ Next Sexual Frontier

These once-taboo relationships are showing up in churches across the US.

A pastor recently told me (Preston) about Tyler and Amanda (names changed), high-school sweethearts raised in Christian homes, living in the Bible belt. After getting married, they seemed to be living the American dream with a house, good jobs, and two kids. Then Jon, a friend of Tyler’s, began living with their family. Amanda developed a close relationship with him, but their flirtation soon developed into something more, and Jon and Amanda proposed to Tyler that they begin exploring polyamory, with Amanda adding Jon as a significant other. They also encouraged Tyler to develop a relationship with another woman he’d met at the gym. He agreed.

When Tyler and Amanda came out as polyamorous, their parents were shocked. What seemed like a fringe practice of the sexual revolution had settled into the heartland of Middle America.

Making the situation even more complex, Tyler and Amanda sought counseling from a Christian counselor who advocated polyamory. Tyler’s parents were disturbed by what their son and daughter-in-law heard there: “It’s only adultery or cheating if someone is kept in the dark. If you are open and honest, this is a God-honoring relationship. And this is good for the kids! It takes a village to raise a child, so a polyamorous relationship actually brings more support and ‘family’ into your kids’ lives, much like the extended families in the past.”

Tyler’s parents wanted to know how to respond to their children but also wanted to know how the church should respond. Should Jon be welcomed into the church as an addition to Tyler and Amanda’s family? In a world where many sexual choices and identities are accepted, polyamory is often still stigmatized, …

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God Will Not Speak to You Through Skywriting

Our desperate pleas for a clear sign from the heavens may be answered already.

We’ve all said it, either out loud or in our heads: “If God would just tell me what to do, I would do it!”

We want to follow God’s will, and when we’re facing a big decision, it does seem that an audible command from God—or even an emphatic hint of some sort—would be extremely helpful, not to mention efficient.

When the way forward seems opaque, we begin to ask why the heavens can’t just part and impart a little direction. After all, God did that for people in the Bible. Couldn’t he do it for us? But I wonder if we aren’t missing a bit of obvious direction that is right beneath our noses.

It’s true that the Bible contains multiple accounts of people who hear the audible voice of God telling them what to do. They receive exactly what we say we want: clear direction from the mouth of God. But rather than rush to obey, alarmingly, they often hesitate or ignore the direction outright.

Moses hesitates when God speaks to him from the burning bush, telling him explicitly to rescue Israel from slavery. Israel ignores the thundering commands of God at Sinai, despite their initial affirmation to “do all that the Lord has said.” Gideon hesitates when God speaks to him on a threshing floor, asking for a series of signs as confirmation. And perhaps most famously of all, Adam and Eve receive an audible command regarding a certain fruit, which they patently ignore.

In light of the evidence, it seems doubtful that the audible voice of God would inspire belief or ensure obedience with us any more than it did with our predecessors.

Yet we persist in looking for some way to be certain of what God wants us to do. We “lay out a fleece” of some sort, thinking, …

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Revitalization, Part Three

Leadership in Church Revitalization

In Parts One and Two, I talked about renewal movements that can help with revitalization and the importance of keeping an evangelistic focus. While these are true, here I articulate what cannot be ignored in church revitalization.

Years ago, one of our research projects involved a study of churches that were successful in revitalization. Mike Dodson and I wrote a book called Comeback Churches to describe what we learned.

As we wrote the book, I didn’t want to focus on leadership. I wanted to see all the various factors involved in revitalization. But facts are our friends, and I couldn’t deny what the research revealed: successful revitalization is overwhelmingly about leadership.

The study showed you simply can’t overestimate the amount of influence the pastor and the pastoral leadership team have. These are the people who lead and are critical to the revitalization process if it is to be successful.

The role of the pastor in particular is both evident and overwhelming. We studied over 300 churches from over a dozen denominations. We created a formula: you had to be declining for at least five years followed by growth between two to five years through church revitalization.

We didn’t want churches who had only turned around for one year. One year could be an anomaly: they could have just had an unusually good year, or a church down the road could have split with some of their members coming to that church. Five years of decline followed by two to five years of growth was our standard.

Here is what we found: about 60 percent of the time that growth came when a new pastor showed up and the old pastor left.

Imagine writing that book. “Hey, here’s your book on church revitalization. We found the key: quit …

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Unleashing the Gift of Evangelism in 2020

What is central to Jesus’ mission for us has become secondary to many Christians.

Evangelism. Evangelist. Evangelize. Who knew that a word with an etymology relating to good news could become such bad news in our world?

We all know that evangelism has fallen on hard times. What is central to Jesus’ mission for us has become secondary to many Christians. Not only does this one word evoke strong emotion (on either side), but it has become increasingly polarizing among evangelicals.

There are few words that consistently cause such varied reactions globally. Some love it and engage in healthy evangelism, some are neutral and prefer to remain unengaged. Yet, others dislike what it entails and some are even unsure about its relevance.

One thing is for sure: evangelism is not going anywhere, and more than ever, we need to reengage in conversation and dialogue around evangelism. Perhaps more than this, we need to embrace and unleash the power and gift of evangelism in our post-everything world.

More than ever, Christians need to reaffirm their commitment to evangelism as a priority in their faith.

Evangelism is…back?

We seem to vacillate in popular opinion regarding the role and importance of evangelism in our faith. There are times when the evangelist is welcomed and there are times when evangelism becomes anathema to Christians—which seems ironic, I know.

Irrespective of our feelings regarding the word itself, sharing one’s faith is an important aspect of the Christian faith. Evangelism is not a side activity for a busy church. Evangelism is not an optional extra. Evangelism is biblical. Evangelism is natural. Evangelism is necessary for Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, and Bible-believing Christians.

John Stott states, “We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, …

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My Husband Is Deconstructing His Faith. How Do I Journey with Him?

This Valentine’s Day, some of us are called to love unbelieving wives and husbands.

In the fall of 2017, not long after we’d celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband and I sat down for an evening chat after getting the kids to bed. The particulars of the conversation are hazy now, but this was clear: After 30 years of being a Christian and spending almost half of that in ministry, my husband was leaving the faith. The faith that formed our marriage vows; the faith our children were baptized in; the faith we held when we buried a stillborn son; the faith our community was built around; the faith that my vocation is centered around as a spiritual director, writer, and speaker—he was leaving that faith.

I wanted initially to respect this news as his journey (even though it was mine, too), so I didn’t tell anyone. I also tried to keep the experience safe in my head so that I could think my way to answers in the newfound madness. My body, however, told a less cerebral story. I was driving home after a long day of errands when the full impact hit me: My eyes blurred with tears, and short breathes rolled through my chest. Two weeks had passed since my husband had dropped the “I don’t really believe there’s a God anymore” bomb. It took that long before I could even begin to feel the disorienting weight of his words and the betrayal, loss, and grief that came with them. This was clearly more than I could handle alone.

As I shared the news with some close friends and pastors, I felt plagued with questions: How do I tell the kids? What does this mean for their spiritual formation? How do we connect? How do I like him again? How did he get here? Why didn’t he tell me earlier? Will we still go to church together? Will we ever feel normal again?

In Letters to a …

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