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Nations Nearby | Part 9 | Meet Your Neighbors: Sikhs

April 27 2015 at 9:52 am 0 Comments

by Almasih Kahdost

Sweat dripped down my back as I saw drapes sway in the breeze entering the gurdwara window. Given the ineffective nature of ceiling fans above, I was really hoping the breeze would make it my way, but no dice.

The occasional Sikh worshippers coming in and prostrating themselves didn’t seem to mind the excessive temperature. I wondered if perhaps they were reminded of the weather in the Punjab region of northern India and eastern Pakistan, home of Sikhism, one of the youngest of the world’s major religions.

ORIGINS

It was amidst this South Asian region, in 1469, a young boy was born who would become Sikhism’s founder, eventually being known as Guru Nanak. Influenced by and frustrated with both Hinduism and Islam, Nanak shaped Sikhism, removing idol worship, polytheism, the caste system, gender inequality and other tenets of his day’s prevailing religions.

Nanak would be the first of ten successive human gurus. (A guru is teacher who is full of knowledge). The eleventh guru, however is the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib. It contains the teachings and devotional hymns of the previous ten gurus, along with others.

BACK TO THE GURDWARA

Walking to the front of the gurdwara, I watched the granthi carefully uncover, open and fan the holy book, thereafter reading from it. His fanning brought some relief from the heat, but not as much as I was about to receive when he took us to a small room upstairs. Finally: AIR CONDITIONING! But it wasn’t intended for visitors so much as it was for the Guru Granth Sahib; the holy book, honored and respected (not worshiped) as a living being and accommodated with sleeping quarters, food and other comforts.

Afterwards, I was taken downstairs where I was offered as much (amazing!) Indian food as my tummy could hold. Someone was manning the kitchen practically around the clock in this ever-open Sikh place of worship.

Between the prostrated worshipers, the air conditioned Guru Granth Sahib and the fantastic South Asian food and hospitality, I felt as though I was northern India. But this was in the U.S.  In fact, you could probably have similar experiences at the corner of 124 and Warfield Road at the Washington Sikh Center. If you visit there for Sunday langar (a community meal) you may meet some very kind, generous people and even make a friend or two.

LIKEABLE BUT LOST

As kind as these folks are - as is true with so many in the world - they are equally lost. Sikhs agree one may potentially be united with God through meditation on his name, selfless service, living an honest lifestyle and sharing. There is a heavy emphasis on doing good.

Maybe you have Sikh friends or coworkers and don’t even realize it. Although some have adopted a more western look, many of the men are still identified by a bearded face and a turban covering their uncut hair. They may also wear a silver bracelet.

If so, Tuesday, April 14 was a Sikh new years festival, Vaisakhi. Ask them about it. How did it go? What is the spiritual significance of the holiday? Ask them about their beliefs. Be a learner. You could ask specifically about the “five vices” of Sikhism (lust, anger, greed, emotional attachment, pride) and, after confessing that you’ve committed these, gently ask if they have. If so, ask how they will know whether or not they will be good enough to be united to God. Ask, “If there was a way to be rid of your bad deeds, would you want to know?” Tell them that Jesus has the ability to give the credit of his good deeds to his followers and remove from them their bad deeds.

WE ARE THE WORLD

In this emerging multi-cultural county of ours, the customs and dress of our new neighbors are becoming decreasingly out of the ordinary. On one hand, there is something nice about that. These folks are humans just like us. However, as we pass by their places of worship, or see long beards and turbans, may those little cues of cultural differences be a reminder: God has brought the nations nearby so we can love them with the love of Christ.

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of Covenant Life who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments below.

See all the posts in this series.


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Nations Nearby | Part 8 | Pursuing Persians

March 17 2015 at 9:42 am 3 Comments

Pursuing Persians
by Almasih Kahdost

What he said caused my eyes to well up. It wasn’t anything dramatic per se, but still I found tears coming to my eyes and a smile landing on my face. What he said was precipitated by a question.

“How often do you go back to visit your home country?”

He stumbled a little, calculating how best to answer. He finally said something to the effect of, “It’s not really safe for me to return. You see, I’m a Christian and…”

That’s when the tears came.

I almost cried because my new friend is from Iran and I have been praying for his people for years now. But my tears weren’t because he can’t safely return to his country. Nor were they for the fact that his relationship with his mother took a dramatic turn for the worse because of his decision to follow Jesus. While those things were indeed sad, my tears were tears of joy.

FREED FROM A REPRESSIVE REGIME

It made me immensely happy to hear that this Persian brother had escaped the oppression of an evil regime and was coming to enjoy new freedoms he’d not previously experienced. Whereas before he had been the subject of repressive tyranny, now he was out from under the thumb of his captor, free.

His story is mine. While I’m not from Iran, he and I both responded to Jesus’ proclamation of freedom to the prisoners and were thereafter set free from oppression (Luke 4:18). Both he and I had been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and were in fact following him (Ephesians 2:2). But now we’re both free.

CAN’T SHARE OVER THERE

Of course, not all Persians are like my friend. Many are still in captivity to sin, lost in darkness (like anyone else outside of Christ). But what sets Persians who’ve moved to the States apart from your typical been-here-for-generations American is that they have had little opportunity to hear the gospel. In fact, according to the self-styled Iranian Christian News Agency, Mohabat News, Iranian president Rouhani’s Advisor on Ethnic and Religious Minorities’ Affairs has said that “...no one has the right to promote his or her faith…it is not acceptable, for instance, for a Christian to invite a Muslim to Christianity.” (Incidentally, Iran has one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world, albeit underground). While Advisor Younesi does say, “...everyone is free to practice his or her faith…” he seems to not grasp that inviting others to Christianity is part and parcel of practicing our faith.

WON’T SHARE OVER HERE

As believers, sharing our faith is non-negotiable and as Americans it is a privilege to be able to do it without fear of imprisonment (or worse). But many American believers won’t do it. Too busy or scared or something. Yet the Persian people at our office, in our neighborhoods, or who we bump into at Starbucks are now in an environment where they can freely listen and respond to the gospel. Could it be that God has dispersed Persians to countries where evangelism is legal “...so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:27)?

BUT I DON’T KNOW ANY PERSIANS

Of the 25,000-plus Iranian-born residents in the Baltimore/DC area, over 8,000 are in Montgomery County. Chances are you’ve met some, maybe even without realizing it. If you don’t know any, why not change that and learn about their culture? One way to do this would be to head to Black Hill Regional Park in Germantown on April 12 for Sizdah Be-dar. (A similar event will be held at Bull Run Park in Centerville on April 5). On these days thousands of Persians will enjoy spending time with friends, families and maybe even people they’ve just met. (Hint: that’s you!)

You can also meet some Persian folk around town AND get some really great food at the same time. Check out Caspian House of Kabob or Moby Dick, both in the Kentlands. Very warm, friendly staff and incredible food. Yekta in Rockville is wonderful as well. You can also stop by a couple of Persian stores (Caravan Deli or Potomac Gourmet) and meet folks there.

Persian’s ancient culture and history has much to offer and the high value placed on hospitality is something many many western Christians could learn from. That being said, we believers have something to offer non-believing Iranians; that is Christ Jesus, who lived, died and rose again to redeem those from every nation.

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of Covenant Life who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments below.

See all the posts in this series.


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Missions Teahouse Recap

February 18 2015 at 10:43 am 2 Comments

Written with contributions from Beth, Rebecca Duberstein, Valori Maresco, and Sarah Stogsdill. Photos by Pam, Hannah Moore, and Hannah Stogsdill.

If you happened to walk into the church building last Saturday, you were couldn’t help but notice the Women’s Mission Teahouse, a true cross-cultural experience for the ladies of our church. Beth Kraatz and Hannah Stogsdill led the team that transformed the lobby into a Central Asian Teahouse.

The church lobby was dressed with vibrant colors of tablecloths, oriental rugs, floor pillows, more than 50 teapots and hundreds of teacups, all volunteered by different ladies in the church. It was apparent this event was a labor of love for so many. Close to 200 women gathered and lounged around low tables set with a variety of teas and treats including Turkish Delight, dried fruit, almonds, and pastries. The mismatched china was a perfect reminder of the many different homes that had contributed to make it special. Hannah Stogsdill used her artistic eye to combine all these elements to create a beautiful, inviting space in the lobby for learning and fellowship.


“I was blown away by the sense of community I experienced as the women of Covenant Life came together to share their teapots, delicious food, sweet fellowship and prayers.” —Beth


On the morning of the event, the lobby was bustling with ladies of all ages who had arrived early to help. They were filling teapots, stocking hor d’oeuvres, arranging the potluck dishes on the tables. You could feel their excitement and their ownership of the event.

After a time of worship, a missionary from Central Asia, shared about the many challenges facing the Muslim women she knows in the region where she and her husband live and work, and then led us as we prayed together for God to work in the lives of the women of Central Asia.

Following the talk, a magnificent buffet lunch of regional foods was waiting, and while eating, we heard about the experiences of the worship team who had recently traveled to Central Asia.


“The ladies also enthusiastically answered the call to contribute to the potluck lunch. Covenant Life Church is full of good cooks! Nine tables were practically sagging under the weight of the appetizers, entrees, and desserts these ladies brought. Every dish was unique and so tasty! —Rebecca


The testimony of the missionary from Central Asia provoked hearts as she shared about the challenges the women of Central Asia face, but many were encouraged knowing they could help by praying for them. The ladies were also reminded of the number of unreached internationals right here in Gaithersburg, and the opportunity to reach out by extending kindness and hospitality to the unreached in this area.


“It was a beautiful environment that fostered fellowship and gave us a glimpse of another culture. Interacting with the ladies there was so uplifting and inspiring to me. The Lord deeply met me during the extended prayer time and I walked away with fresh conviction to pursue evangelism.” —Sarah


The atmosphere helped the ladies to lift their eyes and see the fields that are ripe for harvest in the community around us. Not everyone can or will go to these fields like the missionaries who spoke, but we can all take part in reaching the unreached. We can pray for those who are far off and about how we can reach the multitudes that God has brought to our front door!


“I left both refreshed by a sense of rich community at CLC, and excited to see how God can use that community to extend the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him.” —Rebecca


The time ended with another talk by a missionary with Global Gates, an organization working to bring the gospel to internationals in our own country. She shared about the amazing opportunity we have to reach women from unreached people groups right here in our community and ended by giving us ideas on how we could be more aware of opportunities around us. 

We are so grateful for how the Lord worked through the teahouse! He lit new fires of faith and boldness to reach out and pray for the lost around us, so that all “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing [all] may have life in his name.” —John 20:31


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Tokyo Mission Update

February 9 2015 at 12:31 pm 0 Comments

Interested in learning more about the Tokyo Mission? The Missions Team is hosting a Japan Mission Info Night on February 15 at the home of Linda B. where Seita Sakaguchi will discuss ways you can pray and get involved. Also see the Redeemer City to City website for a video feature about Grace Harbor Church where Seita is based.

Seita writes:

“As you may know, the Japanese people are one of the largest unreached people groups in the world. Of the 127 million Japanese people, the Christian population is only 0.22%. Most people will live and die without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, unless someone brings the gospel to them.

We have been in Tokyo for about a year, seeking to bring the gospel to the Japanese people through the planting of Grace Harbor Church. Grace Harbor is a new church planting initiative in an area called Toyosu in the Tokyo Waterfront area. Thousands of people live and work in this densely populated area, but there was no Christian church for these 120,000 people, until Grace Harbor started last year.

Even though so many people live in this area, it’s not unusual to meet people who tell us that they have been living in this area for years, but they don’t really know anyone and that we are the first ones they can actually call friends. We have been seeking to be a blessing to this community by connecting people to one another through various events, such as concerts and cookouts, and by serving the needs of our community through events like Kids English Camp. A team from Covenant Life made this event a success for us last year. We have made so many wonderful friends, and I don’t have time to tell you all the stories, but I want to tell you about what we’re most excited about recently.

A few months ago, together with two other missionary families, we started meeting together with several of our non-Christian friends who showed spiritual openness weekly for dinner. At this weekly gathering, we not only share a meal together, but we also share our own struggles in our marriage and parenting and other relationships and how the gospel shapes our thinking and gives us hope in the midst of life’s struggles and power for change. We are seeking God working in their hearts, opening their eyes to their own brokenness as well as to their need for God. We’re praying that the beauty of Christ and the light of the gospel will break through soon.

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The harvest in Tokyo seems truly plentiful, so please pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more people to gather people into His kingdom. Pray also for us “that God may open to us a door for the word” to proclaim the glories of Jesus.

If you would like to know more about our mission in Tokyo and what God is doing there, please visit the Tokyo Mission website, and you can sign up to receive our prayer update e-mails.

Thank you so much for your partnership in the gospel with us.”

Interested in learning more about the Tokyo Mission? The Missions Team is hosting a Japan Mission Info Night on February 15 at the home of Linda B. where Seita will discuss ways you can pray and get involved.


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Uganda 2015 update

January 15 2015 at 10:31 am 0 Comments

We received the following updates from the missions team currently serving the church in Uganda. Thank you for praying for them.

UPDATED: January 15, 2015

God is at work here! On Wednesday, the pastors and youth conferences started and have been going great. We are leading the youth conference with around 200 people attending. This year’s theme is “Live and Love Like Jesus” based on 1 Timothy 4:12. He has been preaching through the book of Mark and showing how we can live and love like Jesus by looking at his life and ministry. We have enlisted the help of local young men to lead the discussion small groups and they are doing a fantastic job.

Members of our team have been leading the pastors through a study of 1Timothy. There are about 70 pastors and deacons that are attending the conference. We have been introducing some helpful hermeneutical tools to the pastors that they can take back to their churches and use in the future. Today, after teaching on 1Timothy 2:1-7, we introduced prayer cards for the unreached. What a powerful and sweet sound to hear the group praying in unison for scores of different people groups!

We have also been leading the children in different lessons and crafts during the conference as well. About 45-50 children have been hearing various Bible stories and a clear Gospel proclamation. After the conference each day, there has been an outdoor crusade in the village. Yesterday, a young man stepped forward and said he wanted to give his life to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Another exciting story from the conference: there is a specific young man that has been attending the conference this week and hearing the Gospel. We have been able to talk to him, encourage him, and share the Gospel with him. Please pray for this young man! If he were to trust in the Lord, his family would most likely disown him and throw him out. Please pray for him; that God would move in his heart and give him courage to follow him!

The team is tired but doing well! Please continue to pray for strength, good health (we’ve had a few upset stomachs over the last few days), and that people would continue to be encouraged and drawn closer to the Lord through us! We are seeing God at work here and are excited to see what else he has for us.

Thank you for keeping the team in your prayers!


January 12, 2015

On Friday night, we hosted a dinner for the pastors and their wives who will be attending the conference this week. It was a great time of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. We were able to bless the pastors with monogrammed ties and their wives with beautiful shawls.

Saturday was spent resting and preparing for the rest of our trip. We were grateful for the time to catch up on sleep, prepare for the outreaches and youth conference, and spend time with some of the teens in the church. The time spent with the teens was rich as they learned how to lead Bible studies for the conference this week, practiced crocheting, and learned the rules of basketball.

Sunday we joined the church for their Sunday service. It was lively and filled with worship! The team performed a few songs, but unfortunately, there is no video evidence. Our team leader preached an excellent message on how God views his children and his specific love for each of them. After church, we had lunch and then did a basketball clinic for the teens in the community. The men on the team led a clinic with about 25 teens, but at least 200 men, women and children came to watch and enjoy the games after the clinic. We shared the gospel when the clinic was finished, and we are hoping that many were affected by it. We all loved spending time with everyone at the clinic; whether it was teaching basketball or just talking with the locals. After the clinic we headed over to the local radio station with one of the local pastors to share his testimony over the radio. His testimony was excellent and very encouraging. The rest of the team enjoyed listening to it on the radio back at the guesthouse.

Monday we had a very good time repairing two widow’s homes in nearby villages. The ladies played with children, carried water, and helped the women with cooking. The men shoveled sand, mixed cement and tried to keep the skilled nationals supplied with all they needed. Our team had a long talk with an unbeliever about Jesus. One of the widows whose home was repaired had just been saved and added to the church. She was very grateful!

The whole team is feeling well, although many have not adjusted to the time and are a bit tired. Pease continue to keep us in your prayers.


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Pray for the Missions Teams

January 5 2015 at 9:12 am 1 Comments

This month we are sending two teams to serve in western Uganda and Central Asia. One of the best ways we can participate in supporting these teams is to pray for them. Here are some points to help guide our prayers.

Uganda

For almost a decade our church has enjoyed a unique partnership with a group of churches in western Uganda. More than 200 members have traveled there and been powerfully affected by the work that Pastor Moses and his team are doing.

This Wednesday we will send out another group to continue the tradition. Here are some of the things they will be doing during their two-week trip:

—Teaching and sharing testimonies in 10 villages
—Serving hundreds of young people at a four-day youth conference
—Helping repair homes for several widows
—Sharing the good news door to door
—Teaching on the radio
—Teaching local leaders at a four-day seminar
—Loving and encouraging the members in these local churches

Prayer points:

—That everyone would be filled with the love of God and the boldness of the Spirit
—That our team would be given the right words to share in each context
—That they would see God’s power triumph over sickness and evil spirits
—That they would experience the unity of the Spirit from start to finish
—That our team would grow stronger in faith as they step out to in obedience to the Great Commission

Central Asia

For the team headed over to serve:

—Health and safe travels
—Quick adjustment to time change and sound sleep
—Sensitivity to the Spirit
—Words of knowledge, prophetic songs
—Strength to serve with musical gifts
—Flexibility and ease in working with the sound system
—Overflowing hearts of God’s love to share no matter how tried they are

Prayer points for the women attending:

—Pray against any feelings of guilt or comparison that the women attending might feel as they come together and share what God is going in their lives.
—Pray for traveling mercies for all who are coming to the meeting, for no travel delays and easy connections along the way.
—Pray for those leading small groups, break-out sessions, worship, teaching, prayer warriors, logistical helpers, and other volunteers coming to help with child care. Pray especially for our speaker, to be spirit-filled as she shares. 
—Pray for this meeting to be a great encouragement to the women no matter what stage of life they are in presently.
—Pray that each woman will leave the meeting with one tool to use to share her faith and deeper motivation to proclaim the good news more boldly.
—That this would be a time of equipping for all of the women involved.


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