If the Iranian government knew Christians were learning how to grow a church in the middle of their Muslim nation, the converts could lose their freedom—or worse, their lives.
But that hasn’t stopped pastors with the underground church in Iran from secretly attending classroom sessions led by Dave Anderson, a founder and longtime trainer for EQUIP, the organization led by Christian leadership guru John Maxwell. read more
Sharon Norris Elliott says that women often imprison themselves in the cares of this world by not slowing down to relax and pray.
As a result, Elliott, founder and CEO of Life That Matters Ministries, began Milk & Honey Life Retreats—spa vacations for Christian women who need some time to unwind, think and ultimately hear from God. read more
When kids in Roatán, Honduras, join a soccer team, the odds of them becoming involved in drugs, premarital sex and street violence decreases. That’s because the CAN Fútbol Foundation (CANFF) uses the sport for more than recreation. It has become a way to promote education and social change among more than 150 underprivileged youth living on the island.
“There’s so much poverty in Honduras, and I realized I could use soccer to not only keep these kids active, but also as a vehicle to motivate them to do better in school,” says executive director and co-founder Jason Old, a former soccer player with the Honduran National Fútbol League. read more
Assemblies of God missionary and former pastor Scott Bush travels on his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic ministering to hundreds of bikers at festivals throughout the country. His way of telling people how much Jesus loves them: help them find out how truly dysfunctional they are. Read on ...
CHARISMA: What drew you to the biker crowd?
Scott Bush: I’ve ridden a motorcycle since I was 18 years old; I’m now 48 years old. In 1991 I started working with bikers, going to motorcycle rallies and sharing the gospel with people. It was incredible. They showed up at my house and wanted to start a Bible study. So my wife and I ended up starting one. I had no desire to be a pastor or to be an evangelist. But more and more people came, and we ended up starting a church. My wife and I pastored a biker church for seven years in Orlando, Fla., and as I was pastoring I realized how dysfunctional these people were. I went to college and got my undergraduate in behavioral science so that I could better understand who I was ministering to.
CHARISMA:You’ve got to admit, calling a biker dysfunctional is an interesting way to start a conversation about Christ.
Bush: Currently we’ve been using a wheel of dysfunction [to draw people]. It’s a game that we play with the bikers. They walk by our booth and we ask them if they’d like to take a personality test or check for dysfunctions they may have. They laugh, but they’ll also usually walk over and spin the wheel.
On the wheel there are many dysfunctions. One is a funny one—it’s “Goofball.” Another one is “Histrionic,” which means a person is a drama queen, and another one is “Borderline Psychotic.” The bikers are interested in getting the worst diagnosis the wheel can produce. There’s only a 1-in-13 chance that they’ll land on “Normal.”
CHARISMA: No Pat Sajak or Vanna White, huh? So what happens after the bikers spin the wheel of dysfunction?
Bush: From there everyone gets a big laugh, their friends will point and laugh, and then their friends may spin the wheel. After that we’ll invite them to come into the booth to get their free prize.
We’ll then go through the salvation message in a couple minutes telling them about heaven, telling them about sin, telling them about the blood of Jesus and talking to them about salvation.
CHARISMA: Your team visits both small and large bike festivals—sometimes with up to 1,500 people. What type of response do you typically get from bikers at these festivals?
Bush:Most of the response is very good. We usually get 1 out of 4 people [to say the prayer of salvation]. If a biker says, “I don’t want to pray that prayer,” I say, “That’s great—let me tell you about God’s plan for our lives.” If they respond yes, then we pray the prayer of salvation. From there we’ll hand them a pocket Bible. We give them another card which explains what they just heard and all the Scriptures so that they can be reminded of them.
CHARISMA:What’s your biggest challenge when ministering at bike festivals?
Bush: One of our biggest challenges is not having enough people to work the booth. By the time you’ve spun the wheel, gone through the plan of salvation, prayed with the person and had them fill out a follow-up card, it can be timely.
CHARISMA:Sharing the gospel with a tough crowd is right up your alley, isn’t it?
Bush: Yes. My hobby was riding motorcycles, and God used my hobby to minister to those that I would come in contact with in that arena. read more
Patsyann Maloney knows enough about being used. When she was 6 years old a relative molested her. Two years later a blind man in her neighborhood began sexually abusing her, offering her 25 cents for every encounter.
Violated throughout her young life, Maloney also battled dyslexia but would later turn her pain into a business. She became a prostitute in her early 30s and eventually a madam. read more
It’s true that God will give His children beauty for ashes in their darkest hour. Such was the case with Mark Canfora Sr., whose 18-year-old son committed suicide in 2005.
Canfora was devastated when his daughter called him at 2:30 in the morning and said, “Daddy, Marky is dead.” Mark Canfora Jr. had hanged himself in a park in Barberton, Ohio.
“I met the ambulance at the hospital, unzipped my son’s body bag and laid hands on his chest and asked Jesus to bring him back,” Canfora recalls. “[But] God spoke to me and said, ‘He’s not here … he’s with Me.’” Out of the seemingly hopeless situation came a ministry.
“Every year we sponsor the Celebration of Life Festival in the park where my son lost his life,” Canfora says.
Some 3,000 people attended the festival on Easter in Florida, where Canfora now resides. The event has spread also to Georgia and Tennessee. In his book, A Child Died, A Father Cried … and God Answered, Canfora addresses false teachings about Christians and suicide.
“I have over 2,000 friends on Facebook, and every day someone reaches out to me because they have lost someone to suicide. I let them know God understands their pain, and He loves them.” read more
In one of the most populated nations in the world, where thousands of children live on the street, Mustard Seed International (MSI) is relying on faith to feed and educate the vulnerable homeless children of Calcutta, India.
Today MSI is giving 3,000 impoverished children an education at the eight schools the missions group operates in the nation’s cultural capital.
Bengali native Subir Roy and his wife, Eunok, oversee the schools. MSI workers have a shoestring budget of approximately $6,000 a month to manage a staff of 60 full-time and 40 part-time teachers.
“Our schools meet the immediate physical needs of these poor, desperate children, while also providing them with hope for a more fulfilling and productive life through education,” says Bill Deans, MSI’s president. “We seek to provide Christ-like compassion, kindness and love to a people plagued by abject poverty.”
MSI’s Calcutta schools are based in church buildings; two are mobile operations aimed at children living on the streets. Often, the meals MSI serves will be the only ones the students receive that day. The ministry has also planted churches and built hospitals and children’s homes.
In order to operate, MSI has to keep overhead costs down: All U.S. staffers are volunteers, including Deans.
“I wanted everything that came in to go to the ministry,” says Deans, who retired from business in his early 50s. “We don’t pay any salaries or payroll taxes. Things don’t get done as quickly as a hard-charging businessman would like, but they get done.” read more
Small-town pastor Steve Willis catapulted to national prominence when he appeared on the ABC miniseries Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution challenging his congregation to embrace a healthier lifestyle.
The teaching pastor of First Baptist Church of Kenova, W.Va., says health is just as much a spiritual concern as it is a physical one. “What we do with our bodies matters to God,” Willis says.
He explored the spiritual aspects of health after noticing numerous ailments in his community, many of which he says stemmed from obesity. Around this time a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was released and dubbed the area the nation’s unhealthiest.
The pastor soon began a sermon series challenging his congregation to change their lifestyles. His church also started the Biggest Loser, an exercise class derived from the hit TV show. According to Willis, participants have collectively shed “about a ton” of weight—apparently enough for several national news outlets and the Food Revolution producers to notice the church’s efforts.
“Just as parents want to set a good example for their children, we’re working to be a good example to churches who are watching what we do,” says Willis, whose endeavor mirrors such Christian initiatives as last year’s Fight of Our Life health tour by gospel artist Kirk Franklin.
While teaching physical stewardship, Willis also plans to team up with Oliver to put a dent in the federal school lunch program’s processed food ethic.
“We’re working on what we need to do next to see this go on a larger scale,” Willis says. “If that means working with people in Washington, D.C., to make some necessary changes, then that’s what we’re willing to do.”
Winner of the 2009 ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete With a Disability, 36-year-old Jason Lester is proof that a dysfunctional home, physical trauma and personal loss aren’t reasons to quit on life.
Already a regular on the Ironman circuit, Lester won the ESPN award after becoming the first person with a disability to complete the Ultraman triathalon—a grueling three-day, 320-mile biking, running and swimming race involving the world’s top 36 endurance athletes.
“I feel honored that He’s chosen me to do what I’m doing,” says Lester, who shares how Christ helped him endure his trials in his upcoming book, Running on Faith. “My hope is that people will say, ‘There is a greater cause and purpose in my life’ and see that God has a perfect plan for them.”
He has good reason for hoping people will believe that. At age 12 Lester was thrown nearly 130 feet from his bike in a hit-and-run. He suffered 21 broken bones, a collapsed lung, and his right arm was paralyzed. Only months later his father died of a heart attack. With his alcoholic mother already out of the picture, Lester threw himself into sports and eventually took up extreme running as a way of hiding from the pain. However, his conversion in 2001 showed him that God had given him athletic talent for a reason.
“My mission is to inspire others to use their God-given gifts and their calling for their life,” he says. Next up for Lester: He plans to run in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. read more
Imagine children as young as 4 and 5 years old being forced to work 14- to 16-hour days making bricks, cigarettes, rope and textiles, then being forced to beg strangers for food in order to eat. This is the picture of slavery in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
“It’s a pretty harsh and brutal environment,” says evangelist Bruce Ladebu, founder of the Children’s Rescue Initiative (CRI), which has been purchasing the freedom of these victims. “The children never have any time off. They worked from sun up to sun down.”
Many have been enslaved because of debts accrued by their parents. Armed with guns and money, Ladebu and the CRI team go into these slave areas to purchase children and sometimes entire families for anywhere between $200 and $1,000 per child or family. read more