Category : Mike Schrage

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A Glimpse into Uganda

While visiting Uganda, Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister during World War II, dubbed it the “Pearl of Africa!” There was no mistaking why. The beautiful landscape and fertile soil along the base of the mountains and along the great Nile River was inviting to many Western farmers relocating to start new coffee and tea plantations.

Uganda was thriving in many ways. In fact, at one time, the majority of African doctors practicing on the continent were educated in Uganda! After independence from Britain in 1962, decades of corrupt leadership caused Uganda to sink economically, socially, and spiritually.

Today, that tide is turning as Christianity once again gains a prominent place within the culture. In 2009, missionaries in Mbale, Uganda, invited GNPI to build a production center to aid in multiplying their church planting efforts.

The result? The number of church plants has grown from 200 to around 1000. These wise missionaries understood the truth that media can accelerate global evangelism!

Today, GNPI-Uganda in Mbale produces and distributes Christian audio and video content. It is also a training center for communications students at another bright spot in Uganda, the up-and-coming LivingStone International University.

Isn’t that encouraging? GNPI-Uganda is strategically located in a city with a growing Christian university in a country that is being revived!

Pray for continued revival in Uganda!

 

A Glimpse into Thailand

Good things come to those who wait, right? Do you remember the advertising campaign for Heinz Ketchup in the late 1980s? Apparently this particular condiment was so good, you’d be willing to tip the bottle and wait a few hours to add it to your burger as it finally came out of the bottle.

Well, if good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who faithfully plan, execute, make necessary adjustments, and then expectantly watch as growth and change occur.

I’m deeply convinced of this as I watch our friends at GNPI-Thailand. Thailand has always been a strategic point for missionaries reaching tribal people groups, like the Lisu and Lahu, as well as the main Buddhist populations of Thailand. Just as important, Thailand also serves as a gateway to more difficult-to-reach places, like Myanmar and even China.

GNPI-Thailand is a collaborative approach to using media and technology to accelerate evangelism, including a long-time partnership with missionary Tom Silkwood and Freedom Films. Tom’s faithful work in Chiang Mai has been building steadily over many years and is now bearing great fruit.

Exciting opportunities continue to emerge as Tom and his team produce videos in the national Thai language and leadership training materials like the Biblical Extension Courses (BEC) in other local vernaculars.

Yes, good things come to those who wait. Yet, reaching Buddhists for Christ takes decades. Better things are coming for the people of Thailand because of the patient presence and media productions of Tom Silkwood and GNPI-Thailand.

A Glimpse into Mexico

Picture, if you can, a shrine on the side of a dusty, Mexican road with a statue of Mary, flowers, a picture of a skull, and money offerings – modern day indulgences to gain supernatural favor.

The payee is none other than the leader of the cult Santa Muerte (Holy Death) – also a drug lord. He has hired people as priests to intercede for the group so their cartel would be more prosperous and dominate other gangs.

Drugs and deity may seem strange bedfellows, but that is the culture in Mexico today.

Bob Gurwell and Gustavo Velazquez, working for our regional center in Piedras Negras, Mexico, have written, directed, and produced Criba (The Sifting). In this real-life drama, a young man is drawn into the downward spiral of darkness, danger, and fear.

Thousands have watched with nodding heads, saying they can identify with such occurrences. The GNPI regional center in Piedras Negras is making a difference in addressing difficult issues in light of the truth of God’s Word.

You can watch Criba too (it’s in Spanish). Simply navigate your browser to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfTOqH66sQE and see how God is using GNPI-Mexico to create culturally relevant, media content addressing today’s issues.

A Glimpse into SE Asia

In the days of Christ, the Pharisees were the religious elite. The way they dressed, spoke, and acted revealed their status. They were seen as having an inside track to a relationship with God. For much of his public ministry, Jesus challenged the Pharisees because they knew all the right things to do, but their hearts were in the wrong place.

This teaching angered some, but it was inviting to others. We see glimpses in Scripture of Pharisees who were touched and changed by one whose heart was always exactly where it needed to be.

Buddhist monks are the religious elite in SE Asia. Like the Pharisees of old, they are easy to identify; their orange cloaks stand out as if to shout, “Here rests religious insight.”  Their elaborate monasteries are well-populated and centers of highly prized knowledge.

Interestingly, though, in SE Asia, Buddhist monks have been found playing Christian worship music over their loudspeakers. To the objective observer this would seem odd. Why would songs espousing and illuminating tenants that are not from Buddha fill the air next to a temple filled with Buddha’s likeness?

The answer? GNPI works hard to share the Gospel through mediums that people can understand, in a way that is culturally relevant. Set new teachings to inviting native music and you have a powerful recipe for reaching people.

Music has such power to move us. It would be hard to find a medium that sparks greater emotion. Add the teachings of Jesus, and God will use music to do incredible things.

In SE Asia, it’s working to melt the heart of the religious elite as they hear and consider the challenges of a man who changed the world with the truest heart we’ve ever known.

 

A Glimpse into Ukraine

Famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for the quote, “God is dead.” In few places has the attempt to remove God from societal life been more prevalent than the nations of the communist former Soviet Union. Even now, the departure from God as the center of life has created the political and military unrest gripping Russia and Ukraine.

You and I know that God is certainly alive and well in our world. Yet, for people who have known nothing but life without God, the quest for truth can be an elusive search, full of struggle and uncertainty.

Dr. Sergei Golovin is the regional director for our center in Ukraine. However, he used to oppose God and his Word. A scientist by training, Sergei was looking to disprove the Bible while conducting research at an isolated location in Siberia. He was all alone. He came across a copy of God’s Word, so he started reading.

What he started out to disprove would eventually win him over. As he poured over the Scripture, he discovered science proved the Bible true, and that this Jesus, whom the Bible spoke of, was actually the author and keeper of all truth.

Dr. Sergei Golovin, a brilliant man and holder of several patents, was convinced from reading the Bible, and looking at the evidence of creation, that there had to be a creative designer.

He was right! This new passion for knowing God turned into a lifelong mission to bring others to know that they need the saving grace of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to set them free from sin.

Today, nearly two decades after he met the God of the universe, Sergei and his team use science and apologetics to win the cultural wars inside his homeland of Ukraine and in Russia. Hundreds of books and tracts, now augmented with video, deliver a better way!

To learn more about the work of Sergei Golovin and GNPI-Ukraine, watch this video we produced in 2013 while helping to raise funds for a new training facility in Ukraine.

Pray for Sergei and Ukraine, particularly during these unsettling times.

A Glimpse into the Philippines

The Philippines is a collection of more than 7,000 islands. Interestingly, it seems there are as many expressions of religious practice and worship as there are islands. This can be confusing indeed.

In fact, it is not uncommon for the people of the Philippines to bring together parts of different religions to practice strange “hybrid” sorts of worship. People could be in a cathedral in the morning, and then that same afternoon, they might offer sacrifices to small figurines in their homes.

Idols would not be something most Westerners would be accustomed to, but in the Philippines, idol worship is rampant. The same person who offers such devotion to an inanimate object could also carry a cross and be nailed to it during Easter week to honor Jesus!

GNPI-Philippines has been speaking into this worldview since 1998 with productions like My Worship: Real or Replacement? and WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) series. These have become very popular broadcast series with the Filipino people. Strange, you say, but for Filipinos, these video series accurately communicate into their worldview.

As a result, the one true God is bringing a life of focus and clarity to many who are choosing his one and only son, Jesus.

 

A Glimpse into India

Know any great teachers? Chances are a great teacher is the reason why you chose your profession, developed a life-long passion for a hobby or special interest, and likely why you came to know Jesus. There’s something special about people who can take ideas and concepts and make them come alive to us. People who teach, especially about Jesus, deserve a place of honor in our society.

Teachers are given this high respect in the nation of India. It’s this veneration for learning that has given our series, The Parable, such high success and popularity.

The interest in the series comes in a place where Hinduism is alive and well and the worship of hundreds, if not thousands, of gods continues. The Parable series was effective in India because it allowed contextualized interpretation to occur between the pages of Scripture. This means people could easily apply what they were seeing on the screen to everyday issues and problems in their lives.

What would Jesus look like, who would he be, what caste would he be a member of if he had lived and taught in India? What would have been the hallmarks of his teaching and of his ministry in the community and in the country? Questions like these shaped what viewers saw. Finding ways Scripture could be portrayed in digital parables made all the difference for the Hindi-speaking population in India.

This impact was multiplied through access to local cable networks. While this great teaching reached thousands, there’s much work to be done. Only 2% of India’s more than one billion citizens follow Jesus. In fact, of more than 2,250 people groups in India, the latest numbers suggest 2,027 are still unreached. The need to make disciples in this great country is huge!

It’s going to take a lot of great teaching by a lot of great teachers. You know what? Your support of GNPI is helping people share the Gospel effectively. Thanks for helping GNPI accelerate global evangelism to places like India by providing Bible teachers with Christ-centered media content that answers everyday questions.

 

A Glimpse into Kenya

Last week I invited you to come with me for a journey around the world to visit some of the places GNPI works, to meet our regional directors, and to learn more about the cultures and worldviews in which we work. First stop: Kenya.

The drama was entitled Dini ya Ukweli or True Religion. It was not exceptionally written or phenomenally produced, but was extremely popular with Africans. Why? Because this GNPI Swahili drama hit at the heart of an issue – the issue of religious men with dishonest hearts.

In this video, a local preacher (and friend of GNPI) plays the part of a shyster (and does it well). He is someone who takes advantage of the good intentions and ignorance of others. He is one who mocks his own culture, one laced with ancestral worship for the sake of making easy money.

People could identify with the film’s main character because it amplified his hypocrisy, and in the process exposed disingenuous hearts. At the end of the day, the African audiences who personally experienced or saw such shenanigans in real life knew they were not seeing what Jesus would do. True Religion was not an indictment. Instead, it was a mirror helping them see into their African culture, and it worked!

I hope you’ve enjoyed our stop in Kenya. Stay with me as we continue our trip next week with a visit to India.

Glimpses into the Regional Centers

As a former missionary or cross-cultural worker in Kenya for almost 20 years, I made my living studying the habits, languages, and attitudes of others in order to connect with them. The connection was vital if I was to impart Biblical knowledge and, more importantly, instill a call of the Divine into the heart and lives of future African disciples of Jesus. To do this well, language learning and cultural adaptation are key.

Marketing expert Seth Godin writes, “Worldview has nothing to do with you or your mission… it’s the way a person acts without you in the room.”

For the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share interesting, personal notes about some of our regional directors, the countries where they serve, and highlight a project with impact that is connected to their specific worldview.

My hope is that through these glimpses you’ll not only learn more about our regional directors and the centers they help lead, but that you’ll get to know, just a little bit better, the cultures and worldviews that are part of the people we ask God to help us reach on a daily basis.

So, come with me around the world. Our first stop in next week’s blog is the place I spent so much time and holds a special place in my heart, Kenya.

No Joke!

Recently, at the North American Christian Convention (NACC), I was listening to a speaker who told the story of Penn Jillette, an illusionist, comedian, and vocal atheist. Recounting an instance when he was moved by a Christian who kindly engaged him and gave him a Bible, he said, “You must really hate someone to not proselytize them.”

Take a moment to think about what this atheist said. There is a lot of truth to that, isn’t there?

If we really believe in the wonderful hope of God and Heaven, and if we really believe in the horrible reality of Satan and Hell, would we not want to do all we can to “proselytize” others?

“Others” refers to those who we commonly call “lost,” and rightly so, because that is indeed what they are without Christ. However, as another teacher at the NACC put it, they are not just lost, but “missing.” They are missing the influence of God, absent from the lineage of grace, and ultimately missing from Heaven’s roll call.

The reality that every day we encounter missing people is startling, isn’t it? Will the love we have within us rise up to shout a warning to others destined for eternity without God? Or, will we silently feast at the table of God while others are in a wasteland of darkness and spiritual famine?

Let us recommit to demonstrate genuine love for God’s creation as we walk with him daily – even if that path takes us through hardship or difficulty. Let’s recommit to seek out those with whom we can share the Good News of Jesus.

If an atheist comedian can see true love demonstrated through the life of someone who took a chance to reach him, let’s be encouraged that God’s Spirit is calling all kinds of people to his kingdom. It’s no joke or illusion. It’s God at work, using people like you and me to go, share, teach, and love, using all means possible to win people for his glory!

 

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