Multiple Faces of India

If religious nationalism is at the heart of India’s social and political uprising, what then is core to the spiritual renewals taking place in so many places and among so many peoples?

Two dramatically divergent pictures of India appear in this country of astounding complexity, variety, and opportunity. The first is that in 2017 the government of India forced Compassion International to shut down its services to 145,000 children, lay off its 580 staff, and turn off its annual funding of $50 million.

On the flip side, there are remarkable movements towards faith. Miracles of healings and release from controlling spirits fuel these amazing people—movements of faith, resulting in Hindus coming to Christ. Many of these converts call themselves “Christ-ward” believers—that is, their worship and faith is in Christ, but they continue to live within their Hindu culture.

Religious Nationalism

Why such opposite and contradictory movements? Why would a country with much of its population living in poverty turn down service to its children, an issue concerning not only Compassion International, but other evangelical and Roman Catholic charities? Charging that funds from the West are used for conversion purposes, the government said the money is no longer wanted. It is estimated there are two million non-profit groups working in India.

This didn’t happen overnight. Hindutva—Hindu nationalism, literally “Hindu essence”—is growing and has been building strength for decades. It is now hand in glove with the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. Hindutva is an ideology that “seeks to create a Hindu rashtra (nation) by redefining ‘Indianness’ on the basis of religion and culture,” thus moving India towards becoming a Hindu nation, as noted by missiologist Prabhu Singh.

These Hindu nationalists view attacks against other faiths as their way to protect …

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‘These Bombs Led Me to Christ’

The “Napalm Girl” from a famous Vietnam War photo tells her story of coming to faith.

You have seen my picture a thousand times. It’s a picture that made the world gasp—a picture that defined my life. I am nine years old, running along a puddled roadway in front of an expressionless soldier, arms outstretched, naked, shrieking in pain and fear, the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance.

My own people, the South Vietnamese, had been bombing trade routes used by the Viet Cong rebels. I had not been targeted, of course. I had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Those bombs have brought me immeasurable pain. Even now, some 40 years later, I am still receiving treatment for burns that cover my arms, back, and neck. The emotional and spiritual pain was even harder to endure.

And yet, looking back at the past five decades, I realize that those same bombs that brought so much suffering also brought great healing. Those bombs led me to Christ.

Mountain of Rage

As a child, I was raised in the religion of Cao Dai (pronounced cow-die). My grandparents were important leaders within the religion, and they enjoyed respect from our entire community. Following in their footsteps, my parents, who had grown up knowing no religion except Cao Dai, also devoted themselves to its beliefs, as did all of my siblings.

Cao Dai is universalist in nature. According to a description on CaoDai.org, it recognizes all religions as having “one same divine origin, which is God, or Allah, or the Tao, or the Nothingness,” or pretty much any other deity you could imagine. “You are god, and god is you”—we had this mantra ingrained in us. We were equal-opportunity worshipers, giving every god a shot.

Looking back, I see my family’s religion as something of a charm bracelet …

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How History’s Revivals Teach Us to Pray

The case for communing with God in a daring and agonizing way.

From 1949 to 1952, the unthinkable unfolded on Scottish islands known as the Hebrides: revival! Seemingly out of nowhere, a spiritual awakening swept across the islands of Lewis and Harris, replacing post–World War II despair and depression with earnest, zealous faith. Some historians believe this was the last genuine awakening in the western world.

When I came across a book detailing the Hebridian Revival, I wanted to know how a community was transformed from spiritual freefall to stunning renewal. So I booked a flight to Scotland, hoping to meet anyone who might remember what happened in those days. To my amazement, I met 11 eyewitnesses—in their 80s now—who agreed to interviews in the sanctuary of the very church where the awakening began.

Bundled against the wintry barrenness outside, my new friends warmed with memories as tears flowed freely. While they admitted strong preaching and other measures had played a role in the revival, to a person they described something more essential when God moved: a kind of spiritual posture among those at the core of the awakening.

They told of the attitude of brokenness and desperation that stirred Christians in that day, a spirit of necessity and audacity, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. They called it “travailing prayer,” from how Paul described his prayers for the Galatians “of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (4:19 KJV).

Ever since I looked into the eyes of people who experienced the revival that we so desperately long to see again, I have come to believe that the link from here to there is in the hearts of men and women willing to receive this gift of travail.

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Violence Against Women Begins in the Womb

Why female feticide threatens the social order.

Sabu George, a Delhi-based researcher, has spent the past quarter-century exposing what he calls “the worst kind of violence” in Indian history—the elimination of millions of unborn girls. He regards it as nothing less than genocide and describes the first few months in the womb as “the riskiest part of a woman’s life cycle in India.”

For the last two decades, reports have consistently illustrated the extent of the problem. After investigators uncovered 400 pieces of bone believed to be of female fetuses, reporters gave graphic details: “Last September,” wrote Raekha Prasad and Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian, “remains of dozens of babies were exhumed from a pit outside an abortion clinic in Punjab. To dispose of the evidence, acid was used to melt the flesh and then the bones were hammered to smithereens.”

Although it’s easy to relegate this story to the remote regions of the developing world, India is representative of a global problem of epic proportion. In the year of the #MeToo movement, the practice of female feticide offers us a powerful depiction of the institutionalization of violence against women. Sex-selective abortions perpetrate violence against the most vulnerable, unseen victims. What emerges is an alarming picture of mass termination: prenatal offspring, aborted for no other reason than they happen to be female.

According to a study by The Lancet, the toll in India averages half a million fetuses each year, with some regions of India faring particularly badly. Although accurate figures are very difficult to compile, estimates suggest that “among the stock of women that could potentially be alive in India today, over 25 million are ‘missing.’” …

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I Discipled a Murderer

When people don’t change, are our efforts in vain?

Five years ago, I worked as a defense attorney, advocating for children. One day I walked into the break room of the office I shared with a few other attorneys and found a new coworker eating lunch. Darryl (not his real name) wasn’t a typical legal assistant. He had recently been released from prison after serving an 18-year sentence for murdering his roommate. Darryl was 20 years old when he was sentenced to prison. I’m not sure why he committed this murder, but I know he was involved in a local gang. After Darryl was denied parole over and over again, his grandmother asked a coworker of mine to represent him in a hearing. My coworker agreed, and Darryl was released. Now, at age 39, he worked as an employee in our office—his first legal job.

Darryl wasn’t accustomed to having friends—not positive friends, anyway—so I often stopped by his office just to say hi. I sat and chatted with him at lunch, and I always offered my help if he had any questions. As time went by, I found opportunities to share more about my faith and ministry. He asked about my weekend and evening plans, so I talked about the local homeless shelter where I served and the Bible study I attended. I told him that I would travel to local jails and prisons telling women about a God who loved them.

One day he asked me, “Do you think God could love someone like me after all the horrible things I’ve done?” I told him yes and described to him the amazing, forgiving love of God. After a few weeks, Darryl came to my office with a new question: “How do people become Christians?” On this day, we forgot that I was an attorney. We forgot that we were at work. We were just two sinners in need of a Savior. …

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Sectarian Cinema: Oscars Highlight Muslim Defense of Persecuted Christians

“Watu Wote” shows the power and limits of African and Arab films to probe interfaith relations.

Two years ago, the heroic actions of some Kenyan Muslims brought their majority-Christian nation together. The Oscar-nominated film depiction of that heroism may do so again—if many people watch.

Watu Wote is a fictional retelling of real-life horror. In December 2015, al-Shabaab terrorists stormed a bus headed toward the border with Somalia and demanded Christian passengers separate for targeted execution. Muslim passengers responded, “If you want to kill us, then kill us. There are no Christians here.” The Christian women were given hijabs to wear, while the Christian men were hidden behind bags.

They knew the danger. One year earlier in a similar bus attack, Muslim militants killed 28 Christians who failed to correctly say the Islamic creed.

Filmed on location in Swahili and Somali, the 22-minute film was nominated for the Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards.

“The film captures an issue close to Kenyan hearts, that apart from religious differences, we are all Kenyan,” said Timothy Ranji, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Mt. Kenya South. “The downside is that it will be watched by very few Kenyans.”

Access to film is limited in Kenya. The nation ranks 77th worldwide in terms of cinemas per capita, according to UN data. Radio is a far more effective means of communication in the East African nation, Ranji said.

And some, like William Black, may choose not to watch it. “The movie tells a good story, I’m sure,” said the American Orthodox missionary and professor at St. Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya. “But it hits too close to home.”

Black believes that terrorists want to push Kenya to the tipping point. “The narrow focus …

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Is Your Church Really Focused on Evangelism? Maybe Not.

For pastors, avoiding the topic of evangelism cannot become the default choice.

Evangelism has the ability to make some of us very uncomfortable. We worry about offending people. We agonize over saying something wrong, unorthodox, or unhelpful that might end up leading someone further from Christ in lieu of closer to him.

While we certainly don’t want to share Jesus carelessly or apart from the spirit’s leading, avoiding evangelism out of fear is not a God-honoring option. There is no ‘perfect’ way to share Christ—we’re told to do it and do it boldy trusting that the seeds we plant will bear fruit in his timing.

As D.L. Moody famously said, “Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

For pastors, avoiding the topic of evangelism cannot become the default choice. For the church to continue thriving, we need everyone—churchgoers young and old—to buy into a shared passion for the spreading of the gospel. If our hearts are truly for the unbelievers—those who haven’t yet heard the good news of God’s love for them—we’ll be willing to face discomfort, difficulty, and even the possibility of failure to share it with them.

Here are some ways to practically encourage evangelism in our churches, organizations, and personal lives:

Create a culture of evangelistic accountability

I am always conscience of the shoes I’m supposed to fill—I sit, after all, in Billy Graham’s chair and preach at D.L. Moody’s pulpit. Evangelism, for obvious reasons, should be my middle name.

One of my goals during my time at the BGC has been to create a culture of evangelistic accountability to serve as a reminder of its importance to our organization. …

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The Myth of the Holy Hierarchy

Remembering UK scientist R. J. “Sam” Berry (1934–2018), a real scientist with real faith.

“As a Christian at university, I was faced with a hierarchy of possibilities. The really holy people became missionaries, the rather holy people were ordained, and the fairly holy people became teachers; the ‘also rans’ did all the other jobs in the world,” so wrote R. J. Berry in his book Real Science, Real Faith. Having discovered that he either couldn’t or shouldn’t do any of the “holy” jobs, Berry, known to most as Sam, eventually realized “that we have all been given different talents and callings, and that there is not (and should not be) such a thing as a typical or normal Christian.”

Sam Berry was anything but a normal Christian. He attended his local church regularly, went to the monthly prayer meetings whenever he could, and served on the church council. For the last 30 years of his life he was licensed to preach, and for about 20 years he took part in national synod meetings. This would have been a huge commitment on top of a regular job and raising three children, but Sam was a high-capacity person who was not content to conform to the stereotype of “also-ran”—those who run races but never win. He demonstrated to the best of his ability that every single Christian is in full-time ministry.

As professor of genetics at University College London, Sam studied island populations (especially mice), which often involved field trips to remote Scottish islands. He was a distinguished biologist and published work on evolutionary and ecological genetics, biodiversity, and conservation biology, and was the president of several prestigious scientific societies. His final academic contribution, a book titled Environmental Attitudes Through Time was …

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Interview: Inside the Nixon Years

Chuck Colson tells the inside story of the most controversial relationship in Graham’s life.

Billy Graham’s relationship to President Richard Nixon was a tricky one, Charles Colson said in this exclusive interview before his death in 2012. As special counsel for Nixon before his own conversion to Christ, Colson often assisted in arranging meetings between Nixon and Graham. As a result, he witnessed interactions between the two men, which he shared with Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli.

In what type of settings would you have interacted with Billy Graham and President Nixon?

Graham came in to do church services on Sunday mornings. He also came in on a number of occasions just to visit with the president and stop in and see some of us at the various offices. On many occasions when I was with them, I would ask the president if he wanted me to leave and he generally said yes. I can think of few other people that Nixon ever spent time with totally alone without someone sitting with them. They had that kind of an intimate relationship; he trusted Billy completely.

What do you think of William Martin’s assertion, “No president ever made such a conscious, calculating use of religion as a political instrument as did Richard Nixon”?

Part of my role as Nixon’s assistant was to mobilize the religious community, find those disaffected Democrats and win them over. It was said at the time that it was the first time there had been this sort of concerted effort to get religious people into the White House.

I asked many religious leaders for access to their mailing lists. Even in 1972, it was pretty sophisticated to do this. We were aiming at a 20-million-voter database so we could identify by precincts. Graham had a list of evangelicals that was pure gold, and we asked him for it. His assistants checked …

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When the Rohingya Came, This Christian Hospital Was Ready

After decades shut out of refugee camps, medical missionaries in Bangladesh offer expert care to those who fled Myanmar.

It wasn’t that Memorial Christian Hospital in southeastern Bangladesh had no warning.

Steve Kelley, a surgeon at the Baptist facility, got a call from Doctors Without Borders on a Friday afternoon last August.

“He was stammering,” Kelley said of the German physician on the line. The facility for the medical aid group also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was about 30 miles south of Memorial Christian, in a Rohingya refugee camp near the border of Myanmar.

“He described hundreds of dead and dying pouring across the border,” Kelley said. “It was a humanitarian nightmare. MSF was up to their eyeballs very quickly.”

The situation—which United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”—began the day Kelly got the phone call. On Friday, August 25, 2017, Rohingya militants allegedly attacked 30 police stations in western Myanmar and killed 12 security force members.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority living under almost constant persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, lost their right to citizenship under national law in 1982—and with it, their access to health care, education, and police protection. Few have jobs, and many are banned from leaving their villages.

Their attack against Myanmar police involved handmade weapons. The Myanmar government was furious. In retaliation, soldiers spent weeks killing 6,700 Rohingya (including 730 children under five). They raped women and girls. They burned 288 villages. And along the nearby border with Bangladesh, where the refugees were fleeing, they laid landmines. (By some accounts, this “clearance operation” began …

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