IDPs


Once upon a time there was a people who lived in the misty hills and cool mountaintops of a distant land. Although they were the same people, from hamlet to hamlet and valley to valley they spoke many languages and dialects. They could not understand one another.

They shared a belief however, in The Almighty One, who was over all things. To honor Him, they placed large stones and wooden poles in the high places – so that they would be visible to all who lived in that land.

More than one hundred years ago, some men and women who were not from there arrived. They said they had come to share good news. The elders recognized the Almighty One of whom the strangers spoke. They embraced this good news. Although they still could not always understand one another, this good news united their people, and they were one.

On the high places they built crosses, twenty and thirty feet tall, to remind themselves that their land was under Christ and they were all His people.

Then some other people came. They were from the same country, although from a different people. They came from the plains with different beliefs and they were the rulers over the hill people. In the space of twenty-five years they established fifty-four military bases in the hill lands. With the military bases came violence and rape and fear.

The rulers said that all of the people in the country must be the same: one country, one religion, one language. There could be no differences. One by one, they destroyed the crosses that had stood upon the high places. They forced the people, even the children and the elderly, to carry bricks to build shrines to the other religion. They placed loudspeakers so that the valleys and mountainsides would ring with the sound of the other prayers. They said this way the people would know that their land did not belong to Christ.

They told the people they could not build churches. They would not allow them to repair their old ones and the buildings crumbled. They told the people they had to request permission to hold religious celebrations and Bible camps. The people requested permission but their requests went unanswered.

Then the rulers sent men to the poorest villages. These men told the people there that they would give their children an education. They would give their parents bags of rice and oil and clothes if they would permit them to take their children to their schools. The children had no other chance of an education and the parents thought that this was good.

They did not know that when the little children arrived at the school, they would be forbidden from speaking their language. They did not know that the children would be forced to recite scriptures from the other religion and beaten with sticks if they made a mistake. They did not know they would be stopped from giving thanks to the Almighty One before they ate. They did not know that their children would be forced to convert to the other religion, and if they refused they would be sent to the military, to the front lines, to be killed. They did not know that the purpose of the schools was to eradicate their culture, their faith, their heritage, their identity.

A young man from the hills saw his people suffering. His grandfather and father were pastors but they told him he could serve the Almighty One is other ways. He traveled for eight months through the land, hiding from the rulers and the soldiers, and wrote down the stories of his people. Then he left his land and he journeyed to distant countries to tell others about what was happening and to ask them to help.

Now he is in the land from whence came the first foreigners bringing the good news. He is asking us to stand with his people again. He is asking us not to forget his people and others like them. He is asking our rulers to remember them and to help them.

“Surely,” he says, “the Almighty One is God over the hills, but He is also the God of the people of the plains and He can reach them.” (I Kings 20)

Pray for Burma and for all of its peoples. Pray for the Chin. Pray for the delegation that is traveling to raise awareness of the suffering of their people. Pray for true freedom, including religious freedom, for the Burmese, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Kachin, Rohingya, and Chin.

Read the report documenting the persecution of ethnic Chin Christians in Burma

Chin Christians praying for forgiveness over a destroyed hill cross. Photo courtesy of Chin Human Rights Organisation www.chro.ca

Chin Christians praying for forgiveness over a destroyed hill cross. Photo courtesy of Chin Human Rights Organisation http://www.chro.ca

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I wrote something! I really, really wrote something!

Please excuse my giddiness… after a couple of rather long years (longer than they should have been) I am finally able to announce the publication in electronic version of the biography of my good friend, Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua.

Julio was my first ever “case” at CSW; a case which turned quickly into a life long friend, and gave me a new Peruvian family. He and his wife call me sister and named me goddaughter to their beautiful daughter Candy, an honor which still overwhelms me.

I met Julio in a remote Peruvian prison more than ten years ago. He was innocent of the charges against him and we were sure he’d be getting out, but a year later I returned to only to find him still inside. We toured the maximum security prison with him as he introduced us to brother after brother… all members of the church he’d planted during his time as a prisoner. We laughed together, prayed together, sang together and I still clearly remember the emotional disconnect it was to walk out of that place, heavy metal doors slamming shut behind us, leaving him behind. I carry an image in my memory of his face, behind dark metal bars in a tiny window, smiling at us, as he called to us to remind us to pray for him, his family and his ministry.

He is without a doubt one of the most impressive and at the same time, most humble, people I’ve ever met.

If you want to be inspired, need a story to help you put your own life in perspective, are looking for a good (cheap) gift for a friend or yourself, please consider buying this book. We’ve kept the price low in the hopes that more people will read it; for the same reason, it’s also available for free rental if you are a member of Amazon Prime. All proceeds will go to support Julio’s ministry. If you’re wondering, yes, they’re still poor and living at or below the poverty line, yet he and his wife are dedicated to this taxing but rewarding work, so everything helps.

*Please note that this is a true story, and as such deals with some difficult themes. There are scenes involving torture and other severe human rights atrocities. They aren’t gratuitous but they are honest – so it’s probably a good idea to exercise some caution when sharing with younger readers. I’m not necessarily of the mind that teenagers shouldn’t read it (quite the opposite, as I think it might challenge them to think about some of the injustices in the world and what they can do about it), but I do think it might be a good idea for the adult in their life to read it first in order to be able to discuss some of these issues and events with them.

The link and the book description are below – please read, review, recommend. Thank you and a very very Merry Christmas to you!

A Light in the Darkest Corner

The extraordinary and inspiring story of a young man raised in poverty and violence in the highlands of Peru, A Light in the Darkest Corner, is the testimony of Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua. After his father died from complications related to alcoholism and his mother spiraled into addiction, Julio and his chronically ill sister were left to fend for themselves in the town of Ayacucho, the epicenter of Shining Path terrorist violence. As a teenager he was falsely accused of terrorism, tortured and imprisoned but after a miraculous escape, Julio fled to the city of Lima where he followed his parents’ example, immersing himself in alcohol and parties to bury his pain and anger. A young woman helped lead him to Christ and later became his wife. The pair started a family and a vibrant new ministry only to be hit by a series of tragedies. In 1999, Julio found himself in prison again facing the same false charges as before but this time with a wife, two small children and mounting debts. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, Julio realized God had brought him to a new mission field. Putting aside agonizing questions about his future and the welfare of his family, he began to share Christ’s love with the most despised and rejected of all society, working to transform a nation from the bottom up by bringing God’s light to some of the darkest places on earth.

A source of endless frustration to me in my own work is how often the international community tends to see things as all or nothing: i.e. either there is improvement in a particular country or there is deterioration. The two apparently can’t exist at the same time in the same country. In reality, and as Oddny points out eloquently, progress in some areas can accompany severe setbacks in others and this is precisely what is happening in Burma. Please consider at least praying for, and possibly supporting this outreach to some of the forgotten peoples of Burma.

oddnygumaer.com

Have you ever felt like life is just not fair? Of course you have. Who hasn’t.

This is not fair:

Yesterday I talked to our friend and staff member who is in an area of Burma that most don’t dare to go to right now. It is Arakan state. For the past months the area has erupted in terrible violence. Some people say it is a religious and ethnic conflict. I think it is the result of decades of oppression, poverty and suffering among a people who are not allowed citizenship although they have lived in the country for hundreds of years. The people group is called the Rohingya.

I may be writing some more about the Rohingya in the days to come. But yesterday I heard this story that moved my heart. It was the story of Chakin (not his real name) who is 8. His village was attacked and…

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 I am back at home, my comfortable, quiet, safe home, after eleven days in Colombia. These abrupt transitions can be challenging to process mentally and emotionally and I’m still not really there yet. Part of me wonders if it might have been healthier in the olden days, when one had a weeks or months long, physical journey during which to think it all through before arriving back to one’s everyday life.

It was an intense eleven days, as a few colleagues and I traveled to four very different parts of the country, meeting local partners, viewing projects and listening to lots and lots of personal testimonies. I’ve visited Colombia so many times in the last eight years that I’ve lost track of the exact number, but, as always, the country continues to surprise me and teach me new things. Who knew, for example, that the drug wars of 1980s Medellin could be traced directly back to Woodstock[1]?![2]

It was a trip of contrasts, as Colombia always is, of alternating tears and laughter throughout each day. We facilitated a workshop run by one of our Peruvian partners, working with local Colombian partners on care for staff who are all too often overloaded with the trauma of the issues and people with whom they work. As a couple of the local staff volunteered to share what they were feeling and experiencing, their stories of helping others blurred over into their own histories and personal experiences of atrocities, massacres, forced displacement, threats and loss. Later that night, we walked with a few of them, and our Peruvian partner, to watch a soccer match between rivals from two of the major cities and spent a laughter filled night, highlighted by a random snack vendor who apparently found our group fascinating and inexplicably hilarious.

Towards the end of the trip, we sat at the front of a rural church, facing around seventy or so people. It wasn’t the safest area and our time there was limited so they, before we had arrived, had selected five people to give their personal testimonies as representative of the others. The majority, if not all of them, were forcibly displaced people who, at different points over the past decade had been forced to flee their homes – which for them represented all they owned in the world, their sustenance, and their future – because of attacks by illegal armed groups. They had come to this place of very relative safety (the armed groups were still present, just not as blatant in their activities – one woman told me how in that same town five of her brothers and sisters had been murdered over a seven year period) and built up a church that looks outward into its community – a church which, despite the ever present risk and with limited resources, still manages to offer spiritual support and material care for the masses who arrive on its doorstep seeking the very basics: shelter, food, clothing as well as spiritual and emotional support and affirmation.

I still find myself thinking about the words and voice of one of those who was chosen to share her testimony. An elderly woman, she told a story of intense hardship – of threats, violence, forced displacement and loss but she concluded by giving thanks, “I have lost much but I have much to be thankful for. I give thanks to God for this church, for these clothes that I am wearing, for food I have to eat, and for these hands with which to work.”

Every time I go to Colombia I am deeply challenged by men and women like her and like the partners and friends at the workshops who told their stories. People who’ve lost pretty much everything but still praise their Maker. People who’ve experienced horrific trauma, who would have every right to shut themselves away from the problems of the country and focus on themselves but, filled with God’s love, keep reaching out in love to others who’ve been traumatized.

While, in theory, I know the answer, I still wonder just how they do it, especially after so many years, decades, and so much horror.

I do know that I, we, are called to do it with them in small and less small ways – at the very least and maybe the very most, in prayer.

“Help us to help each other, Lord, each other’s load to bear; that all may live in true accord, our joys and pains to share. Amen.”

Adapted from a prayer by Charles Wesley


[1] The 1969 music festival, not Snoopy’s avian sidekick – though that would make for an interesting Peanuts strip.

[2] For the record, this direct connection may or may not exist – but it certainly wasn’t a theory I was familiar with…

This is Jaime. He is 74 years old. In 1970 he immigrated to California where for the next 33 years he worked as a busboy in a Bob’s Big Boy in downtown Los Angeles and where he became a Christian. He and his wife, Juliana, raised six children all of whom live and work in Southern California.

In 2003, at the age of 66, he decided to give up his life in the United States to return to Mexico, to his indigenous village in the mountains of Oaxaca. He went with his wife in order to share his faith in Christ with his native village. He believes that this is what God called him to do. His children in California, now adult professionals, supported him financially, sending him money to build his house.

In late 2010, in the middle of the night the village authorities came to his home and threw him and his wife out. They forced them to leave the village. The couple now lives in the city of Oaxaca as displaced people. The village authorities will not allow them to return to the village to collect their things, including money his children had sent them. They sold off his four bulls and his supply of grain. When questioned by state officials they lied and said the grain had gone bad and they had thrown it out. They had no answer for what had happened to the bulls. The government cannot or will not guarantee Jaime’s personal security and the village authorities have threatened to imprison or kill him if he returns. He says they sometimes call him late at night asking for his address.

He thinks the reason for their expulsion is rooted in personal jealousy but the village authorities claim it is because he shared his faith with others in the village. They say will not allow anyone to change religion. A missionary couple, also indigenous people from the same region, say Jaime did his work quietly but felt compelled to share his faith and joy with his people. Jaime says his wife, who is 64, cries every night. He says his children have encouraged him to leave Mexico behind and return to California where they will look after him, but he does not believe his work here is done. He asked me to ask others to pray for him.

This is “Juana”. She is in her 70s. She and a number of other families were thrown out of their village on July 22, 2007 because they refused to renounce their faith. As in the case of Jaime, the mob came to their homes in the middle of the night, in a downpour, and pulled them out by force, driving them out of the village. They also sought refuge in the city. She and the others are not allowed to return to the village and have been told they will be beaten, imprisoned or killed if they try to go back, even if it is just to see relatives.

Juana not only lost her home, she lost her husband, who rejected her for being a Christian, and her daughter who was unable to withstand the pressure and renounced her faith.

Juana and the others eke out a meager living, collecting recyclable garbage from around the city and turning it in. She is old, has no family who will support her and no other resources. She still clings to her faith.

The government has done little to help the situation. They will not guarantee the safety of Juana or the others if they return to their village. They say they have convinced the local authorities to let the Christians sell their property so they at least have some money to build a new life, but the Christians say the local authorities deceived the state officials. The local authorities have threatened anyone who attempts to buy the Christians’ property; technically they are free to sell but no one will purchase it. She also asked me to ask others to pray for them.

This all sounds terribly sad but I cannot forget Juana’s steadfast faith in a God who will provide for her, or the sounds of her prayers mingled with the prayers of the others who were expelled that night, at the end of our meeting. She lifted her eyes and hands to God and I could see, she believes.

I cannot forget the light in Jaime’s eyes and smile. The palpable pride he took in telling me about his 33-year career as a busboy at a burger joint in downtown L.A – a job most people I know would consider demeaning and not worthy of mention. Despite the way they have treated him, he loves his people and his village and wants to show them the way to God.

I lift my eyes up to the hills; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

I met a little girl today and asked if she had any prayer requests. She nodded. We sat there for a moment, in silence, while her face grew stony and then crumbled and she began to cry. She buried her face in the shoulder of the pastor at her side but managed to get the words out, “Pray that everything will be alright.”

She is nine years old. When she was seven she saw her father, a church leader and local community leader, gunned down by members of an illegal armed group. Her parents were forced to flee their homes in 1996 because of violence from the armed groups and once again it had encroached on their lives. It reached its arm into their home and took her father right before her eyes.

Her mother, only 28 years old, did not yield. She carried on the work her husband had been doing, standing up against the armed groups that killed her husband and threatened to forcibly displace the community once again. She offered public testimony at regional and national hearings about what was happening on their land and what had happened to her husband.

In January the threats started. She carried on. Then she was physically attacked by men from the armed group, but she stayed. Then it became clear that she and her family were going to be killed.

She left the community with her two daughters and the clothes on their backs – escorted by Christians from other parts of Colombia and other parts of the world as a measure of protection. She was resettled in a nearby city but then she learned that the armed group was still looking for her and would not rest until she was dead.

She was sent into hiding in another part of the country, to a big city, and left to fend for herself. She has lived all her life in the countryside, working as a small scale farmer and didn’t know how to survive in the city. Christians from our partner organization decided she and her family would be better off in a smaller city where she could receive constant support from a local church.

She and her two daughters live there now, sharing one room. They have few possessions. The little girl studies hard and was promoted to the fifth grade, a year above her age group. But there was no room for another fifth grader at her school so she was transferred to the only school that had room, a school infested by gangs where she is bullied and threatened by the older girls in her class. Her mother wants to put her in a different school, a Christian school, but has no money with which to do so. She can’t even afford to buy her a uniform.

Her mother works in the evening selling arepas, a kind of corn based flatbread, on the street. She can’t work during the day because she can’t afford childcare for her younger daughter who just turned four. She doesn’t want to leave her locked up in the room alone while she goes out to work like some other single mothers do. Childcare would cost about $56 dollars a month. She has a place to work if she could find a way to care for her little girl.

They receive support from the local church but the local church has little resources and many needy people in similar situations. She said to me, as I left, “If I didn’t have God, I don’t know what would have become of me.”

Psalm 57
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!