RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- "The harvest is now," a Christian worker and strategist based in the Middle East recently said about the effects of sweeping change that continue to unfold across the region. "We're not preparing the harvest; we are working in a harvest field."
The worker said, "During these crises, this Arab Spring, this stirring of peoples across the Arab world, God is creating opportunities like we've never had before to reach people at a point of need, to embody and proclaim the Gospel."
"Pray the news," another Christian worker serving in the Middle East urged. "As you watch the news, write down the names and places, then turn the TV off and pray...." Pray for safety for believers, "but also that they would have opportunities to share the hope that they have."
Engaging people groups with the Gospel in tough places comes with risk and sacrifice. Pray that believers in persecution will stay courageous and bold in their faith.
Pray Luke 10:2, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field."
Nearly 5,000 Southern Baptists serve as international missionaries, undergirded by Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program.
Based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, each believer is called to continually ask, What am I doing and what is my church doing to be obedient -- to BE His heart, hands and voice, no matter the cost?
During this Christmas season, pray about how you can be Jesus' heart, hands and voice to reach people groups where you are and around the world with the Good News of the Gospel.
10 OF IMB'S KEY NEWS AND FEATURE STORIES FOR 2012
-- Myanmar cease-fire: 'Time will tell'
The government of Myanmar (Burma) and the Karen National Union, the country's oldest ethnic rebel group, signed a cease-fire agreement Jan. 12, bringing a possible end to 60-plus years of fighting between Burmese Buddhist ethnic groups and the predominantly Christian Karen. Christian workers in Southeast Asia are expressing cautious hope and calling for prayer in light of the historic agreement, the first since the Karen National Union began its struggle for autonomy in 1948. If effective, the cease-fire could mean the end of one of the world's longest-running civil wars.
-- Egypt: Christians look past surface tension to real need
A year after Egyptians flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square, the change they demanded is still in limbo. The post-Mubarak parliament has met, but some people fear their new leadership. Some are disillusioned, some are desperate, but all have need of the change that only Christ can bring, believers familiar with the region say.
-- Syria bloodshed: 'same hopelessness'
As Syria's murderous civil war spreads, global leaders have begun to focus on the dangerous regional struggles affecting the conflict: Syrian ally Iran versus Arab regional powers, Sunni versus Shiite Muslims, the fate of Syria's unstable neighbors and what might happen next if the regime of President Bashar Assad falls.
-- Post-tsunami, Japanese open hearts to Baptist volunteers
Since Japan's March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, Southern Baptists have shared God's love through meeting physical and emotional needs of those who survived the sweeping tragedy. In areas previously resistant to the Gospel, doors have slowly opened as volunteers have engaged in a range of efforts, from rebuilding homes to simply listening as survivors tell their stories.
-- Coup in Mali: Baptist family waits for calm
Southern Baptist workers in Mali prayerfully waited out the military coup that erupted in the West African nation March 22. Rebellious factions of Mali's army stormed the presidential palace, announcing on state television the following day they had ended President Amadou Toumani Toure's rule, suspended the constitution and closed Mali's borders. A Southern Baptist church group, who had been visiting a people group they had adopted there, stayed an extra week until the airports re-opened. "The only thing the really did to us was mess up our flight plan and put some tension in our minds," said one of the ministers on the trip. "We saw a lot of answers to prayer this week and saw God do a lot of great things ."
-- Olympics provide Baptists unique ministry opportunity
As Olympics volunteer coordinator for Southern Baptists, Doug Shaw was in motion for months preparing Baptists to meet the tens of thousands of internationals who came to the United Kingdom this summer. "We are praying that many people from all over the world who may not have an opportunity to hear or respond to the Gospel without being persecuted by their neighbors might have that opportunity while they're here in London," Shaw said.
-- Suspect arrested in death of Southern Baptist worker
A suspect has been arrested in the death of Southern Baptist representative Cheryll Harvey in Jordan, according to Jordanian authorities investigating the attack on the veteran teacher. Harvey, 55, whose body was found Sept. 4 in her apartment in Irbid, Jordan, was stabbed to death. Police reports indicate she was killed by a young Jordanian man. Robbery was the apparent motive. Harvey, of Sudan, Texas, worked in Jordan for 24 years, teaching English and other subjects. Ten years ago she founded the ESL language center where she taught in Irbid, Jordan's second-largest city.
-- Global marketplace becoming a mission field
Within every Southern Baptist church there are people who can take the Gospel around the world -- business professionals. IMB President Tom Elliff announced a new component to IMB assisting Southern Baptist churches: the global strategic mobilization of business leaders. Through the GSM initiative, IMB trains and equips laity to leverage their global knowledge, resources, connections and growth strategies to help fulfill the Great Commission. For more on GSM, go to www.imbgsm.com.
A car bombing that killed Lebanon's top intelligence chief Oct. 19 threatened to destroy the country's shaky stability. "Times are very tense here," said a veteran Christian worker and observer of Lebanon's political scene. "Some are comparing it to times near the end of civil war in the late 1980s. Only God knows which way things will turn, but the whole Middle East is changing faster than we could ever imagine. I think many people here feel that things internally are continuing to worsen and that the strife going on next door is coming here in increasing measure." Next door is Syria, where full-scale civil war is tearing that country apart, sending thousands of refugees fleeing into Lebanon and other neighboring nations.
-- Amid Israel & Gaza's bloody faceoff, prayer rises for 'bold' faith among Christians
The long history of conflict between Gaza and Israel has been marked in recent years by militants in Gaza firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli populations -- triggering severe retaliation by Israel. With the current fighting, it's dangerous to be in the street, and there's little movement outside. "Pray for safety" for believers caught in the crossfire, said a Christian worker among Palestinians, "but also that they would have opportunities to share the hope that they have. As you watch the news, write down the names and places, then turn the TV off and pray the news. It's not a political statement or a stand, but asking the God of heaven to invoke His will in the situation and to bring true and lasting peace. With that, He is well pleased."
NOTE: This year's prayer emphasis for international missions focused on the theme, "BE His heart, His hands, His voice," from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists' nearly 5,000 international missionaries and initiatives to share the Gospel. This year's offering goal is $175 million. To find out more about the offering, go to imb.org/offering, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at imb.org/lmcovideo.
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