I’ve lost track of the people who’ve come up to me and asked, “How do you get it all done?” This always makes me chuckle because they actually assume I do get it all done! (They obviously haven't seen my house.)
First of all, my life was drastically simplified when we moved from Anchorage (where we had two or three scheduled homeschool get-togethers or extracurricular activities scheduled a week) to a much more rural setting. (Read between the lines: There’s not a whole lot to do here outside of the home!)
At the end of each of my novels, I like to thank the people who were involved in putting it all together. This almost always includes my editors (aka typo slayers), the members of my Facebook group (aka cheerleaders), and my family.
But sometimes I wonder exactly where I’d be if it weren’t for the prayers of one of my biggest fans, my grandma, who passed on peacefully to receive her eternal reward last summer.
Grandma grew up as a missionary kid in China. Her early days were filled with memories of war and terror when the Japanese bombed Shanghai. Later on in life, she went to smuggle Bibles back into China regularly … all the way into her seventies!
I've said it before, but I don't mind saying it again. The thing I love most about Kennedy Stern from my Kennedy Stern Christian suspense series is that she is always growing. She's being constantly stretched, her worldview is constantly expanding, and she's slowly gaining that maturity she lacked in chapter 1 of Unplanned when she made her way to Pastor Carl's pregnancy center for the very first time.
It's not just her view of the world that's expanding either. Kennedy's faith is slowly growing, slowly gaining momentum. Included in that is her prayer life. This conversation from book 4 in the Kennedy Stern series really stands out to me because it speaks so much about our own prayers and quiet times. I actually heard a pastor preach the same thing the camp speaker told Kennedy so many years earlier, and I think a lot of us have fallen into the same trap she did.
Kennedy knew she should pray but lacked the spiritual stamina to do so. As a little girl, she’d once gone to a Christian summer camp where the speaker shared a story about what happened when he told his atheist friend, “I’ll be praying for you.”
“Why?” the atheist wanted to know.
It's no secret that I've got a heart for the people in the closed nation of North Korea. My first three novels were set in North Korea, and my Kennedy Stern series is about the daughter of missionaries who have devoted their lives to supporting North Korean refugees.
In case you're wondering, I'm not Korean. In fact, my Japanese ancestry means that my great-great-grandparents would have been considered the wicked oppressors of the Korean peninsula. Today, it's no longer the Japanese but the ruling Kim regime that is holding God's children of North Korea in bondage.
So how did a half-Japanese woman who's never set foot in Asia decide to write about North Korea? It all began with a prayer burden.
I once knew a woman I really looked up to who told me, "Prayer is like sex. Everybody assumes everybody else is doing it better." Although as a very young newlywed, I was (more than) slightly scandalized at her choice in metaphor, I've come to at least appreciate the sentiment behind her words.
My husband recently got back from a week-long trip out of state to attend a pastors' conference. Thankfully, everything here went as smoothly as could be expected. The car battery died once when temperatures dropped to twenty below, our hot water heater went out the same day, and our toilet malfunctioned and was out of commission for a day and a half, but at the very least we all stayed healthy and (relatively) happy.
I'm so happy to have Scott back home and just as glad for the time he received of spiritual refreshing. Seeing how blessed he was reminded me how important it is to cover our pastors in prayer. Their jobs are tiring, demanding, and take more spiritual stamina than most of us realize.
You probably agree that it's important to pray for your pastor, but sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to focus on. Here are a few quick areas where I'm sure your pastor would appreciate prayers.
Before he died, George Meuller was estimated to be responsible for the salvation of thousands of souls through his orphanages and other ministries in 19th century England.
George Meuller, nicknamed the Man of Faith, had far humbler beginnings. In his early adult life, he began to fervently pray for the salvation of five friends of his.
I think most of us can admit we'd like a little help growing in our prayer life, right? Busy schedules, small faith, and wandering thoughts keep nearly all of us from praying the way we should.
Several months ago, my friend Jaime (who's also a Christian author) and I were talking about how there aren't that many online resources out there that are specifically designed to help you pray. We both like listening to podcasts, but there weren't any we could find that focused only on prayer.
We launched The Prevailing Prayer Podcast to give people like us -- ordinary people who want to grow in their prayers lives -- encouragement and practical support.
Thanks so much for letting me wrap up the next Kennedy book last week. God, you really helped me with that one. So I'm at it again, fresh start Monday afternoon, a blank document staring me in the face.
I confess that I'm scared.
Have you ever been on mulitask overload? Sometimes I get so bogged down with so many different projects on my to-do list that I sort of freak out and go into stress paralysis mode.
Can you relate?
Most of us want to enhance our prayer lives. Unfortunately, a dichotomy exists in our minds and in our churches, a dichotomy that distinguishes between “seasoned prayer warriors” and the rest of us. If you don’t feel particularly gifted in prayer, you might feel like your prayers have only a little or no impact. And if that’s the case, you’ll probably pray with little or no impact.
Before we explore the world of Christian persecution, let’s take some time to reflect on our own personal prayer lives and preconceptions about the power of prayer. Do you pray because you have to? When you talk to God, is it hard enough just to keep from falling asleep? How might your prayer life change if God were to show you the real-life impact of your prayers?
My favorite non-biblical quote about the power of prayer says, “History belongs to the intercessors.” In other words, history changers are not in capitol buildings, palaces, and battle fields. History changers are on their knees, asking God to advance his kingdom here on earth. Do you believe this? Do you really believe that your prayers can change the world? Do you act as though your prayer life has the ability to make a difference in the outcome of human history?
Here’s a thought to ponder. If you knew with absolute certainty that God would release a prisoner from jail if you fervently prayed, would you take the time to do it? If you were convinced that every time you prayed for a certain country God would bring one new soul to salvation, how would that impact your devotional life?
When we go into prayer with low expectations, it’s likely that those expectations will be met. When we enter God’s throne room with the absolute certainty that our prayers can change the world, it’s very likely that those expectations will be met as well.
Taken from 30 Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
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Libya made international headlines in February, 2015 when 21 men were executed by Islamic extremists. The Christians were dressed in orange jumpsuits and knelt on the beach, where they were summarily beheaded. The video was made public, which led to a widespread humanitarian outcry.
Mathew Ayairga was amongst the victims. His identity at first was unknown, but he was recognized by family and friends. Unlike the rest of the Christians who were killed, Ayairga was not an Egyptian, nor was he a Christian. Ayairga was kidnapped in Chad and had been missing for a month before the video was released.
While the men on the beach were executed, many of them cried out to Jesus in their final moments. Apparently, their great display of faith impacted Ayairga, because when the extremists demanded that he follow the ways of Islam, he refused, saying, “Their God is my God.” With that proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ, he was killed.
Libya is the most dangerous country in Northern Africa for Christians. There is a strong secret police network, and neighbors can receive up to $700 US for reporting on which of their neighbors are Christians. Muslims who convert to Christianity face extreme pressure from their family and neighbors. When Christians are attacked, police and legislatures usually refuse to punish the responsible parties.
On a more positive note, Libyans have shown tremendous response to the gospel. There are so many new converts that Bibles are in high demand. Let’s pray for God to keep on spreading his Word throughout this needy region.
The day before Good Friday, 2015, four terrorists from the Islamist group al-Shabab killed at least 148 Kenyan Christians in a vicious and bloody attack on a college campus. When Christians gathered for Easter services just a few days later, some were frisked at the door and searched for weapons and explosives. At many churches, while worshippers praised the resurrected Jesus indoors, armed security kept watch outside to protect those within.
It’s hard to know how you would respond to such vicious attacks until they occur in your region. In Kenya, the threat of violence doesn’t stop believers from gathering together as a body. “Nowhere is safe, but in church you can come, be with God and just console yourself,” as one young Christian puts it.
“Nowhere is safe, but in church you can come, be with God ..."
Violence against Christians in Kenya has risen significantly in recent years. Sometimes churches are targeted, other times it is individual believers and their families who suffer. Pastor Charles Matole was found in his church, slumped over in his chair after having been shot in his head. He still had his Bible in his lap. Even though he had received several death threats in the months leading up to his murder, the police never launched any investigations.
Although roughly fifty percent of Kenya is Christian, the northwest regions are traditionally Muslim. Islamic extremists also enter Kenya through Somalia and create further unrest. Militant groups like al-Shabab are gaining power, and local groups are lobbying for the implementation of Sharia law, which would effectively end all remaining religious freedom for Christians in Kenya.
Although the Kenyan church faces many struggles, the entire nation of Kenya also needs our prayers. Most Kenyans subsist below the poverty level of one dollar a day. Urban slums, drug trafficking, AIDS orphans are all symptoms of a greater problem of poverty in Kenya. Today, let’s pray for God to pour his grace over the nation of Kenya, to fill believers with courage, to bring their persecutors to repentance, and to bring an end to the crimes and violence caused by religious intolerance and extreme poverty.
On March 15, over a dozen Christians were killed and nearly a hundred injured in two separate church bombings. The attacks took place in the Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad in eastern Lahore. Several guards and police, who also died in the suicide bombings, tackled the bombers before the explosives detonated, thus preventing even further casualties.
Unfortunately, these incidents are not isolated ones. In Pakistan, a dispute over a drink of water can lead to a death sentence. A fight about an outstanding debt can result in a mob attack.
Asia Bibi, one of Pakistan’s most well-known Christians, is a mother who was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law. It appears that she and some of her co-workers got into a fight because they were angry at her, a Christian, for drinking from a common cup and thus “contaminating” it.
Pakistan holds the third largest Muslim population in the world. Even though the country claims religious tolerance, its laws against blaspheming Islam or Muhammad have led to the imprisonment of many Christians like Asia Bibi. In other cases, charges of blasphemy have incited mobs to murder Christians, like Shehzad Masih and his wife, Shama, who was pregnant when the couple was burned to death in Punjab province. The husband and wife had been arguing over a debt with a man who told mosque leaders they burned a copy of the Koran. The loudspeakers at the mosque called on all faithful Muslims to avenge their holy book, and even though police and some kind neighbors tried to intervene, there was no saving the couple, who left behind three children in addition to the one who died in the womb.
It is improbable for religious conditions in Pakistan to improve until the government becomes more stable. Let’s pray today for Christians who face persecution (especially former Muslims who convert to Christianity), as well as for the government to grow more tolerant.
The church in India recently mourned the death of Vani, a 31-year-old widow who was known for her bold witness and mothering spirit. Vani appears to have died of natural causes, but she was no stranger to persecution.
When Vani met a young runaway last year, she took her under her wings and shared the gospel with her. As a result, Vani was arrested for “kidnapping” and “forcing” the girl to convert to Christianity. She was held in a windowless cell, where she acted as a jail mother to the thirty or so other women confined with her. Even though she was only in prison for two weeks, Vani led over a dozen inmates to Christ and after that time returned regularly to pray and encourage the other prisoners.
Even though India is the largest democracy in the world, Christians are often oppressed by both Hindu and Muslim extremists. A young Christian convert, “Maina,” was abused and tortured by members of a radical Hindu group. When she refused to return to the Hindi faith, even her husband beat her and abandoned her, leaving her to care for their young daughter alone. Other times, Christian converts living in predominantly Hindu regions are forced to undergo Hindi purification rituals against their will.
In addition to pressure from people in their communities, Christians in India can be punished for “forcible conversions,” which are illegal in many provinces. Pastor Khanna ministered to Muslims in northern India. After someone secretly posted a video of him baptizing former Muslim converts, he was arrested. He was charged with forcing people to convert to Christianity either by force or bribery. He was released since there was no evidence against him, but he lost his job and was expelled from his region.
India has more unreached people groups than any other nation in the world. Let’s pray that existing Christians would be encouraged and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. Let’s also pray for the gospel to spread so that many who are lost will also come to faith.
Imagine being asked to pray for a sick friend, and when that friend dies you are thrown into prison. Recently in Laos, a request for prayer led to the imprisonment of five Christian leaders. Four men and one women were arrested after a woman they prayed for died from her sickness. The Christians were charged with treating a patient without a medical license.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated story about Christian persecution in the Southeast Asian country. Laos has been ruled by the Communist Party since 1975. Unlike most communist nations, which adhere to strict atheist policies and religious intolerance, the government in Laos provides special allowances and preferential treatment for Buddhists.
When a Christian dies in Laos, pastors are routinely denied permission to hold a Christian funeral service. There are also stories of villages expelling Christians from their homes if they refuse to recant their faith.
Not all persecution in Laos comes from the federal or local government. Christians often face pressure from their own family members. "Tou Ly" and "Fai Cho," were kicked out of their homes for refusing to participate in traditional ancestral worship. In another instance, when a twenty-year-old man named Qhua Xiong converted to Christianity, his family beat him and kept him tied up for over a day. He is not allowed to return home.
Christianity has been declared the number one enemy of the state In Laos. Authorities call it "a lying religion which violates Lao custom." Although there are active Christians and churches in Laos, along with Christian radio broadcasts, the people in Laos need our fervent prayers so that the gospel can spread.
Pray that Christians in Laos who face persecution will remain steadfast.
Pray that Christians would have boldness and discernment in evangelizing.
Pray that God would keep drawing more and more people in Laos to salvation.
"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard." Isaiah 58:8
When we hear about the need for missionaries, we often assume the problem is that there just aren't enough willing people to go out and preach the gospel on the mission field. But what about those of us who would love to be on the mission field but can't due to health issues, financial barriers, family restrictions, etc.? What about those who are sent home from the mission field early because of burnout or health issues or visa restrictions?
My heart for the mission field stretched back to at least first grade, when I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be a "meshonarie" when I grew up. That passion was fueled by missionaries who returned home for furloughs and shared their testimonies of God's amazing power on the field. By the time I was twelve, I received what most Christians would dub "the call" ~ a dramatic moment in which I was certain God was leading me to the mission field.
My husband and I met as a result of our mutual desire to serve God as foreign missionaries. He proposed to me at the Urbana Missions Conference, one of the largest gatherings of young adults interested in long- and short-term mission opportunities. After our honeymoon ended, we filled out our applications, made plans for our training, and started the support-raising process to fulfill our calling.
All our plans crashed three years later when our second son was born with significant medical needs. Three kids, two mutts, and a mortgage later, we are still not on the mission field.
Why, when there is such a need for missionaries today, did God close the door for us? Why, when he gave us both such a passion to serve him on the field, are we still so far from that once-so-long-ago dream?
I have no idea. On the one hand, I look back and figure we were so young back then it might have been disastrous to go on the mission field, so far from outside support. I also think maybe God will use us here to inspire many more people into mission work, which is exactly what he's doing with some of our friends from the Russian mission field.
Even though my husband and I never moved to Russia as full-time missionaries as we originally expected, we kept in touch with many missionaries we had met during our training. A year or two after we had planned to move to Siberia, Russia changed its entire visa structure so that nearly all missionaries were forced out of the country. Although it was a confusing and tumultuous change at the time, these men and women have since gone on to serve the Lord as mission pastors, field-office workers, and professors who train future missionaries.
God's economics aren't like ours, his plans aren't like ours, and his logic isn't like ours. But his plans are good, and I look back on my life and couldn't imagine things any other way.
~ Read more about our own family's journey through missions and find ways to boost your prayers for missionaries around the world in 30 Days of Prayer for World Missions.
More people are held in slavery today than in any other point in history. If that isn't enough to make you sick, this will: A large portion of these are underage sex slaves.
Some people refuse to look at the facts. Who wants to read a story about a four-year-old girl sold by her nanny to an "uncle" who will pimp her out to a dozen grown men a night? Who wants to hear the staggering reports of the children who die before they reach adulthood? (Statistics tell us that a child who is forced into prostitution today can only expect to live seven more years.)
Other people see the crimes, understand the travesty, and blame God. Why would he allow such little children suffer? Why wouldn't he intervene?
Then there are those who actively confront the problem. I'm not talking just about those whose job and mission it is to find and rescue sex slaves. I'm not talking only about the law enforcers and policy makers who put their lives on the line to ensure children in the future have better opportunities than those today.
I'm also talking about the prayer warriors, those who meet God on their knees and refuse to give up, even in spite of staggering statistics and sobering stories. Here are five ways you can pray to end sex slavery today:
1) Pray for better educational opportunities, especially for girls. If a girl doesn't receive adequate education to support herself, she may fall prey to trafficking schemes, or she may see forced prostitution as her only alternative to destitution or starvation.
2) Pray against corruption. All too often, corrupt police will return those who run away back to their pimps or human traffickers. Pray for people who will truly uphold justice in their communities so these children can find safety.
3) Pray for the johns. If nobody was willing to pay money for sex, there would be no need for sex slaves. As it is, the unending demand coupled with the short life expectancy of forced prostitutes creates an almost insatiable need for more and more "workers."
4) Pray for sting operations to succeed. Certain organizations spend months or even a year researching, surveying, and coordinating with local law enforcement to bring down sex ring operations. Pray they would be successful.
5) Pray for true spiritual freedom for those rescued from sex slavery. When victims are rescued, they require medical, emotional, and spiritual care. Many are at risk of returning to their former lifestyles, especially if the root causes of human trafficking (lack of education, poverty, harmful or misogynistic societal "norms," etc.) aren't weeded out.
Want to be even more informed? The 30 Days of Prayer devotional is available as an ebook or audiobook. You might also be interested in the suspense novel, Slave Again, which draws attention to sex slavery in east Asia.