Formerly a Buddhist, Va says Cambodia is spiritually hungry like he used to be

Called.

Va says Cambodia is spiritually hungry like he used to be | Overseas Council

Va says Cambodia is spiritually hungry like he used to be | Overseas Council

 
Va Vachna was born and raised in a large Cambodian family, one of five children. “I heard the Good News even before a church was established in my town, but I was not interested in a new religion. I was a committed Buddhist and vowed to die one.” More than 95% of the country’s population adheres to Buddhism; Islam dominates certain minorities and about one percent identifies as Christian.

When Va was in junior high school, he heard the Gospel again. Missionaries from the capital, Phnom Penh, came to share in the city where he lived. He was invited by a Christian friend to join a small group at his house where worship service was held. While there, he found out that the missionary team had started a music class and soccer team. “I was interested in those programs very much, so I kept attending the service. Being young, I was merely interested with the activities, but my heart was not yet stirred by talks of faith.” Va kept hearing the Good News every time the music class and soccer team met. “I did not understand the Scripture clearly, but somehow one time, I heard the Gospel very clearly. The message pierced my heart, and I started meditating and wanting to know more about Jesus. It was a momentous conversion.” Va attended church every weekend where he learned the foundation of the Christian faith. When he was 17 years old, he prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior and was baptized.

“My belief in Christ started from a deep spiritual need, one I didn’t know existed. I was hungry spiritually and so is my country and its people. Thank God that He has given me a vision to become a pastor.” Va started teaching children in Sunday school. “I thought that if I desire to see changes in the spiritual climate of my country, a great fertile starting ground would be young Cambodian children.”

Initially Va wasn’t sure if God called him to be a shepherd to His people, so he started praying. “I believed if anyone from my family came to know Christ, then it would be a great sign that God is indeed calling me. God answered my prayers. Graciously and faithfully, my brothers, one by one, came to know Christ. The greatest moment of confirmation came when my parents finally accepted Christ. From many tears and prayers, the Lord made it certain to me that He is calling me indeed to take up my cross and follow Him.”

Trained.
Va decided to pursue a biblical education at the Asian Theological Seminary (ATS) in the Philippines. “I had no idea what a Bible school was, but I came to the Philippines to see ATS. After arriving on campus, I was so sure this would be my school and my unique place of learning. I felt very comfortable with the people and felt at peace and in harmony with the environment.” Va is pursuing his Master of Divinity degree to be a pastor. “At ATS, I am continuously learning, not just purely academic information but substantial life lessons that affect my character development.”

Multiplied.
Before arriving at ATS, Va committed to work full-time as a pastor in his Cambodian church. When he returns home, he will be teaching at a local seminary as well. “There is a great need for the contextualization of biblical values, principles and issues in my country. With the help of ministry friends and local ministries, I plan to start a training center in my church, just like what ATS is doing in its Center for Continuing Studies program. The purpose is to equip laymen and pastors to acquire biblical interpretation skills and more effectively reach the hearts of the Cambodian people.”

“It is a great honor and privilege to work on the frontlines for God. He has chosen me to be His disciple. He has opened the way for me, and I believe He will sustain me to be a faithful servant of His. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn, teach and preach the Good News. To God be the glory.”

Sasha-Kay mentors abused and neglected children, inspiring them to heal

Called.
Sasha-Kay mentors abused and neglected children, inspiring them to heal | Overseas CouncilAfter being baptized at 13 years old, Sasha-Kay Campbell says she wandered from her faith. “For most of my teenage years, I was depressed, overwhelmed with emptiness and frequently fantasizing about suicide….I enjoyed partying and drinking, hardly recognizing that I was trying to fill my void with alcohol.”

One day in 2008, she was at home when she says she felt the sudden urge to pick up her Bible. She couldn’t stop reading. “I was so excited. It was like I was reading the Bible for the first time. Things I could not understand before was making sense to me now.” Her mother invited her to church several times, but she refused. She was afraid she would get saved and was not ready for that yet. The day came when she finally accepted the invitation and went with her mother to church. The pastor invited a visitor to preach the sermon message that day.

“As I listened to this woman, I felt as though pieces of me were being chipped away, and a new person was emerging. I could feel my heart melting as God spoke through His servant. My fear had come true, but I was not afraid anymore; I accepted it. I began examining my life, and I realized that I was not walking in the will of God for my life. I was on a path to self-destruction, and only God could save me. I surrendered to God in my heart that day, and He has turned my life around. He shifted my focus from material success and status to a life where He is at the center.”

In January 2009, she became a member of the Power of Hope Deliverance Ministry. During her time there, she served in many roles, including assistant secretary, Sunday school teacher, choir member, dance ministry coordinator and youth choir director. “Before my conviction, my goal was to become a clinical psychologist, but God has called me to teach His people.” She enrolled in theological training to be more effective.

Trained.
Sasha-Kay received an Overseas Council scholarship to study at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Jamaica. “This scholarship has meant a lot to me because upon receiving it, I was able to clear up my account balance and successfully register for two more courses. It has also reassured me that God is indeed ordering my steps and that He has brought me to this institution for this particular season to learn more about Him and to be adequately equipped for His ministry.”

Sasha-Kay hopes to graduate with her Master of Divinity degree by 2014. “God has been teaching me a lot about who He really is and who He wants me to be through my training and interactions with His people.” She says her knowledge of Scripture has grown tremendously through her dedication to discover its meaning, including biblical languages and history. She’s also learned that “being like Christ means being a practical Christian, as we are commanded to love not only in words but also in action.”

Multiplied.
Sasha-Kay is a Life Skills Mentorship Assistant for the Child Resiliency Program at the Hope United Counseling and Wellness Center in Jamaica. “It is a great program that reaches out to children with behavioral problems as a result of abuse and neglect. Through counseling, sports, arts and academics, the children are motivated and inspired to heal, move beyond their dispositions and strive for success.”

After graduation, Sasha-Kay plans to continue into full-time ministry, including counseling and working with the youth of her church. She also hopes to teach theology and biblical studies at churches and Christian institutions around the world.

Dr. Wojtek Szczerba’s Story – Called. Trained. Multiplied.

Dr. Wojtek Szczerba - Overseas CouncilCalled. Trained. Multiplied.
These terms capture the essence and uniqueness of Overseas Council’s world-changing ministry. We target leaders who are called by God to make a difference in the Majority World. Overseas Council is called to provide the culturally relevant and biblically sound training they need to be most effective. The natural result of well-trained leaders armed with God’s Word is the Kingdom multiplied person by person, small group by small group, community by community. Click here to read more.
Dr. Szczerba, teachingCalled.
Raised in a very religious, Roman Catholic family, Wojtek Szczerba was involved in many religious events since his early childhood. He was an altar boy for many years and even thought about becoming a priest. However, he realized in high school that “my faith was very superficial and my Christianity nominal.” He says God served mostly as an idea organizing his worldview, not as a Savior with whom he had a relationship. He started looking for something that would give meaning to his life. “Fortunately I met a group of Christians who truly lived their faith and whose lives with God were something I wanted to have. They wanted to talk to me about those fundamental issues. I spent several months with them, arguing, questioning and observing. Finally I started to read the Bible with them, and I realized this was the Word of God. This is when I became a Christian.” Wojtek began teaching at the Evangelical School of Theology (EST) in Poland in 1996.

Trained.
Wojtek-and-Magda-SzczerbaWojtek earned his PhD in 2000 and served as Academic Dean of EST from 2002-2006 prior to serving as Rector. After his PhD, he began working on his habilitation (second doctorate). In 2009, he successfully defended his dissertation and received his habilitation with honors. He was told it was one of the best defenses in recent history for the Philosophy department. “It was an immense accomplishment for Dr. Szczerba and a tremendous honor for EST and for evangelicalism in Poland,” the school says. “Very few evangelical theologians in Poland have their habilitation, and this honor glorifies the Lord and reflects well on Dr. Szczerba, EST and evangelicals in Poland….Dr. Szczerba was a very faithful, hard-working student, diligent with his studies. He has always had a passion to embrace the truth, making sure he understands what he believes and can explain the meaning.”

Wojtek SzczerbaMultiplied.
In addition to his role as Rector and professor, Dr. Szczerba is a representative of EST throughout Poland to other schools, churches, government officials and conferences. He steered EST through the process of becoming the first accredited evangelical theological school in Poland. The school has become an evangelical education center, gathering many people who serve the Lord through different programs, activities, events and outreaches.
Dr. Szczerba is an authority figure in Christian circles and is invited to teach at different conferences, as well as give lectures in other institutions. He is recognized in churches as a theologian and preacher, and he is a mentor for church leaders in his city, meeting with them to help them grow in their ministry and cooperate with other churches to have a great impact on society.

This is the power of Called. Trained. Multiplied.

The legacy of the JETSN Gospel Ministry: Seminary offers real life experience for students

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The city of Jos, Nigeria, is home to around 900,000 people (75% Christian, 25% Muslim). In addition to infrastructure, a major problem is the ongoing ethnic violence and terrorism that have caused many deaths and the destruction of property. “People are on edge, and the military and police are usually out in full force,” says Rev. Dr. George Janvier, Gospel Ministries Director from Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETSN). The seminary ministers to victims of the crisis through their counseling center, The Center for Professional Excellence.
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The seminary also has three dynamic Gospel preaching teams, led by Rev. Dr. Janvier:

  • The Gospel Team provides film evangelism and ministries in prisons, hospitals and high schools.
  • The Gospel Theater Team ministers through dramas, children’s puppets and films.
  • The Gospel Music Team offers worship music and film ministries.
    • All three include preaching, counseling and meeting needs as they are financially able.

 
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The purpose of the teams is twofold: to give students real ministry opportunities while they are studying and to minister to a large non-Christian community. The ministries are student-led to encourage and develop students’ leadership skills. Around 25-35 percent of the school’s student body are involved in this volunteer ministry.
 
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Zack was a student in the Gospel Team during his studies at JETSN. After graduating, he became an assistant pastor in a church in a largely Muslim village. The senior pastor was amazed at Zack’s abilities and asked him how he knew so much about ministry. Zack responded, “It’s because I was a member of the JETSN Gospel Team.”
 
The legacy of the JETSN Gospel Ministry is hundreds of people saved, hundreds more rededicated to their faith, many who have developed ministry skills for post-seminary life and leaders discipled by the Gospel Ministry Director.
 
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Social justice with a Christian perspective: “God had an assignment for me: protecting the rights of people”

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“Theology is on the side of justice,” says James Njonjo Mue, a human rights lawyer who has been trained to see justice through the eyes of God. Early on in his successful legal career, Njonjo felt a strong urge to receive theological training in order for his life to be “a more effective testimony.” In 2002, he enrolled in the Master’s program for Christian Ministry and Leadership at the Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST), Kenya. “NIST training allowed God to transform me, to sharpen my character.” A bout of illness slowed down his progress at one point, but Njonjo says his conviction was greater. He persevered and graduated in 2005. “I am glad that I did not succumb to the devil’s antics to discourage me from continuing my studies at NIST because my time there transformed me from the inside out.” It also deepened his conviction that “God had an assignment for me: protecting the rights of people.”

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Njonjo says his calling gives him the zeal to go the extra mile in protecting the rights of others, especially the underprivileged. In 2008, his passion for protecting the rights of prisoners led him to expose a great injustice at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi. Inmates were stripped naked and ruthlessly beaten, drawing international attention and condemnation. Njonjo was personally instrumental in releasing a video recording of the incident that made international news headlines and led to the beginning of drastic prison reforms.

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Kenya’s 2010 constitutional referendum was another test of his Christian conviction. He supported the “Yes” campaign, differing from the larger Christian community, because he saw the new constitution as a major breakthrough for justice and human rights. He says the referendum was the culmination of a battle that began much earlier, the 2007 post-presidential election violence that left a permanent dark spot on the history of Kenya. It reshaped his professional career and continues to affect it to this day, thrusting him into the arena of transitional justice (addressing past human rights violations).

Based in New York, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) began its work in Kenya in 2008 in direct response to the post-election violence. Njonjo was appointed the first head of the ICTJ Kenya Program and continues to run its operations. Their work in Kenya focuses on three key areas: truth-seeking, prosecutions and institutional reform, working with local human rights partners. Njonjo’s work as an Advocacy officer with the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) includes participating in investigations of the post-election violence. “This was an opportunity for me to be part of an important process which seeks to bring justice in my country.”

Njonjo’s varied professional career began as a magistrate. After his NIST training, he joined World Vision International before he moved on to work with KNCHR and now the ICTJ. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Oxford, Master’s in Christian Ministry and Leadership from NIST and a Bachelor’s in Law from Nairobi University. His wife, Katindi, is a Policy Analyst with the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Former drug dealer accepts Christ, now a church planter – Scholarships for the Shepherds

Former drug dealer accepts Christ, now a church planter | overseas CouncilMojtaba was a drug dealer in Iran, England and Japan for years. His wife, Fatimeh, was one signature away from divorcing him. Now he is a trained pastor, winning others to Christ and seeing broken lives restored…just like his own. In 1999, he left Fatimeh and their infant son, Saeed, in Iran with a promise to send support home. As the years went by, she grew tired of the separation and spoke of divorce. In 2002, a Christian friend shared the Gospel with Mojtaba. Feeling like there was a better plan for his life, he asked Christ into his heart and was completely changed. When he became a Christian, it was the final straw – Fatimeh’s family demanded she divorce him.

Much was changing in Mojtaba’s life. After serving as a volunteer for Elam College in the United Kingdom, he was accepted into their training program where he grew deeper in faith and devotion to the Lord. He kept earnestly praying for his wife and son. His testimony was the first to be featured in Elam’s Persian evangelistic TV program, Healing the Broken Hearted. It was viewed all over Iran and impacted many lives.

Divorce was imminent, but when Fatimeh went to her lawyer’s office, she just couldn’t sign the papers. Mojtaba praised God and invited Fatimeh to meet him. When they met for the first time in 12 years, she was shocked at his complete transformation – he was a godly gentleman who loved her and his son deeply. Their dormant romance was reignited and their family reunited. “Just as God brought down the walls of Jericho, He brought down the walls between us,” he said. “The work that God has done is not just a miracle – it’s more!”

Both Fatimeh and Saeed became Christians. For Christmas, the reconciled couple opened their home to other Iranians in town; 43 came. Some were believers, and Mojtaba led seven more to faith in Jesus. Now 25 believers meet every week for worship. A new church has been born, pastored by a man who used to be a drug dealer, and serving at his side is his wife who nearly divorced him. God truly heals the brokenhearted and answers prayer. Leadership training and development are vital if the burgeoning Church in Iran is to continue to grow and mature.1 Elam says they are “deeply grateful for the scholarship gift from Overseas Council that helped provide education for those, like Mojtaba, whose lives have been transformed by God and now want to lead others to the same healing and joy they have experienced.”

Meeting needs in the ‘Garbage City’ and beyond – Living Out Compassion

As part of their practical field training, students at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) serve in specialized ministries, including hospitals, homes for the elderly and disabled, orphanages, drug rehabilitation centers, prisons and mission outreach in Sudan. These experiences give the students practical skills to understand the real situations of ministry in their context. Church planting in deprived areas of Egypt is a key emphasis of service. Many of the church plants are in shanty towns and poor areas. The Manshiyat Naser (‘Garbage City’) church plant was started by the Outreach Ministry Team of Heliopolis Evangelical Church; ETSC students and graduates are members of this team.

After taking garbage to the area where they live, the garbage collectors sort it to retrieve useful or recyclable items; they burn the rest, resulting in pollution. Living in this environment makes them susceptible to various diseases and health problems. Those with chronic diseases require monthly medications that they cannot afford. The team started a healthcare project a few years ago that offers medical exams, surgical operations, prenatal care, medication and eye glasses. Patients pay only 25% of their expenses; ETSC covers the remaining 75%. Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding covers many of the healthcare expenses, as well as the students’ transportation. In addition to healthcare, the team offers food to unemployed widows, weekly meals for children and retreats for different age groups. Communicating God’s Word and love is one of the main goals of the team’s service. They aim to communicate the message of salvation and show people that they care for their needs. As future pastors, they will have experience in addressing spiritual, physical and emotional needs in society.

I have had many challenges but no regrets – Scholarships for the Shepherds

Deborah* is using her life experience and personal benefit from counseling to help others through the same process. Currently she is working on her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Jamaica. She says her courses “have equipped me to help people…[with] advice and guidance and to share in their life challenges.” She has had plenty of those herself. She grew up in a single-parent, non-Christian home; her father has never been involved in her life. At 20 years old, she was pregnant out of wedlock. A year later, she and her boyfriend came to Christ and were married. After 12 years of marriage, Deborah discovered that her husband was having an affair. Despite individual and marriage counseling in an attempt to reconcile, the couple separated and will ultimately divorce. She says she doesn’t think she could have coped with the demise of their marriage “without the knowledge, resources and assistance that God provided for me through CGST.”

Now she raises their three sons on her own. Her mother, now a Christian, is unemployed, so Deborah supports her as well. Thus the Overseas Council scholarship has been a real blessing to her and her family. “It has enabled me to continue with my studies, and it…further confirms that the Lord provides for His children. Through this scholarship, I am being empowered to carry out God’s work and to take better care of my family.” Despite her trials, she has remained faithful to the Lord’s work. She counsels inner-city students, teaches adult Sunday school and leads worship. “I feel very privileged and blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in my courses….The Lord has given me the gift of teaching, and I am using my gift to honor Him.” After completing her degree, she wants to offer voluntary hours of counseling to people who cannot afford to pay for sessions. She’d like to teach adult literacy classes and may pursue doctoral studies as well. “I believe that what I have learned from the challenges and experiences that I have had will equip me to help people who have undergone or will undergo similar challenges.”

*Name has been changed for security purposes.

Taking Haiti’s kids back to school – Living Out Compassion

Taking Haiti’s kids back to school | Overseas CouncilTwo years after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti continues to rebuild. Over 200,000 people lost their lives. 300,000 were injured. More than one million were left homeless. Homes and buildings were destroyed, the country’s infrastructure and economy suffered a heavy blow, and a devastating cholera epidemic broke out. Consequently, many children were unable to attend school. Parents and leaders in the community requested the seminary’s help with this problem. Thus the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Port-au-Prince (STEP) began an initiative to help 100 children go back to school. The project is executed in two phases: first, helping 30 children complete the current school year; and second, helping 70 children begin the next school year. The goal is for the children to advance a grade level.

The project is transformational in several ways: it alleviates a significant issue in the community; it allows STEP to demonstrate Christ’s love to the families and share the Gospel; and it aids local churches in their fight against gang recruitment of children who are not in school. Jean Dorlus, STEP President, hopes students, now equipped with a model for community action, will implement similar programs at their churches on a smaller scale. He says the project is possibly a step toward supporting or operating a school for poor children in the future. The seminary intends to repeat this project every year as long as the need exists and funding is available. Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding covers school fees for 100 children as well as the project’s operations.

Bringing hope to cancer children: “Their smiles mean a lot to us” – Living Out Compassion

“They come out of their rooms with a smile on their faces, one by one, and greet us together. Their smiles mean a lot to us,” says the team of students from the College of Theology and Education (CTE) in Moldova as they visit the pediatric hematology department of the local oncology hospital twice a week. The team gathers the children in the playroom for art therapy. “It helps them forget about their disease.” The team has formed a real bond and closeness with the children’s mothers and grandmothers as well. One mother says, “When Thursday comes, my daughter, Liuda, asks when you’re coming. I see that she really likes to be with you. I’ve also begun waiting for you because I notice that we, the parents, feel the need to tell someone that we are grieving. Communicating with you brings us relief.” The group talks about different topics: children, family and their journeys through medical treatment. “Sometimes it is very difficult to talk about a loving God in a hospital where children have severe cancer diseases, but God always gives us wisdom and words of comfort and encouragement.”

The team had a Christmas celebration for the children. They bought a tree for the children to decorate and explained the meaning of Christmas through a drama. “The children’s joy was unlimited.” They also distributed gifts to each family. For one boy, it was the last gift and joy in his life. “When we entered his room with a gift, he opened his eyes, held out his hand and smiled. A few hours later, he was gone to where there is no more suffering or tears. His parents were very thankful to us, and we took part in his funeral….His father said, ‘If not for God, we would have gone crazy [during this journey].’” A student on the team says, “We have such a boundless love for these kids….I am glad I can be a part of the team….We see many miracles in reaching the hearts of children and their parents.” Another says, “They can see that we are not indifferent to their needs and difficulties, and through this, they can come to Jesus.” Overseas Council’s Community Outreach funding provided for art therapy materials, a summer camp for 30 children and 40 parents, and 300 food packages for families who couldn’t afford to buy the food that the doctors prescribe; children going through chemotherapy need very nutritious food as their antioxidant and micronutrient levels are down.