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Body of Christ growing in former Communist nation

1 February 2013 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Asian Access helps unify the Church of Mongolia

MongoliaMONGOLIA (MNN) Did you know Mongolia has one of the world's fastest growing economies? It had a growth rate of 17% in 2011 and 16.7% in 2012, according to BBC News.

The Church there is growing too.

"It's not only growing in numbers, but it's also growing in quality," says Chinzorig Jigjidsuren, the founding overseer of Emanuel Fellowship in Ulan Baatar. (Click here to read about his Mongolian approach to discipleship.)

Jigjidsuren partners with Asian Access (A2) in Mongolia and says they have their hands full training church leaders. But the results speak for themselves.

He states, "We already have seen great transformation in our nation."

Mongolia was the first Asian country to indicate interest in using A2's training model to develop church leaders; the program gained initial success in Japan. God's Word entered Mongolia only after the country abandoned its Communism rule in 1990.

"It was God's timing, because He opened all the channels [through which] we could get [an] idea about the world. And then the Gospel was introduced," Jigjidsuren recalls.

Key to the effectiveness of A2's program in Mongolia is the careful selection of between 12 and 15 emerging leaders. These leaders are then invited to join a class that meets quarterly for a week at a time; the entire program spans two years.

A curriculum established by A2 accelerates students' growth as spiritual leaders, as well as organization leaders. They become more aware of their individual strengths, as well as the unique gifts of their congregation. They're also taught how to determine the needs of the communities they serve and the context in which they live and minister.

During their training, Jigjidsuren says the leaders form strong bonds.

"Uniting the key leaders means uniting the Church of Mongolia itself. We all consider the Church of Mongolia as one church.... There's a great sense of unity, and A2 [plays] a huge role in uniting the pastors," he says.

Jigjidsuren was part of Mongolia's first class to graduate A2's program in October 2001. He says they recently graduated their fifth group of leaders, and the bonds between each group remain strong.

"We [are] still like one big community, so we fellowship with each other and we keep each other accountable," says Jigjidsuren.

Pray that this unity would remain strong and that pastors-in-training would draw closer to God. Ask God to bring spiritual mentors alongside young leaders to help deepen their faith.

"One of our core values is a love relationship with God, so we want the pastors [to] continue growing in their relationship with Christ."

Click here to see how you can support God's Work in Mongolia.

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Fire devastates poor, widows in Cambodia

29 January 2013 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Slum fire sweeps near church; rebuilding plans underway 

fire in Phnom Penh, CambodiaCAMBODIA (MNN/A2) According to the Solidarity for Urban Poor Federation (SUPF) in Cambodia, more than 180,000 people live in informal settlements in Phnom Penh.

Many of these communities are made up of shanties built on rooftops, as well as along rivers and roadsides. Most of them don't have running water, a bathroom, or electricity. People living in these settlements are vulnerable to evictions, fires and flooding.

Fires spread quickly and can easily take out a community before it's brought under control. MengAun Hour serves as the National Director of Asian Access/Cambodia. He says last Saturday, January 20, "Behind our church, one house, a coffee shop, started burning, and the owner of the house was not in the house, so the fire started burning from that house to many houses."

By the time it was put out, "It destroyed 13 houses there. It's a poor community, and among the 13 houses are five houses of our church members." Because of the way the homes are built, there is not much time to grab anything, Pastor MengAun points out. "Most of them, they just ran away by themselves. They didn't take anything from the house."

One woman carried her elderly mother out but couldn't get back in to get anything else. Four widows and their families lost their homes in the blaze. The loss of the homes is significant to a family that cannot afford to rebuild.

Pastor MengAun says when the church saw who was affected, "Even though we are a small church, a poor church, we're encouraging them to help for the special offering. We got $185 (USD) to buy food and clothes for those who are really in need." They weren't alone, he adds. "About four or five churches came and took a special offering like our church did to help the people in the community whose houses burned."

A2's pastors have been trained "for such a time as this." The key to its effectiveness is the careful selection of twelve emerging leaders. These leaders are then invited to be a part of a class that meets four times a year for a week at a time over a two-year period.

In the course of the training, the leaders are able to become more aware of their distinct strengths individually, as well as the unique giftedness of their congregations. Eight years ago, Asian Access graduated its first class of participants in Cambodia. Last year, they graduated the 4th class. What has the training taught: that a unified Church brings hope in situations that are desperate

The land belongs to the homeowners, so it's really a question of getting funds for building materials. Cement will cost between $4,000 to $5,000, but wood costs between $500 and $800. The $185 collected by the churches is a good start.

What they're hoping for now is a little more help, says Pastor MengAun. "If we can come together, we will rebuild the houses. If we cannot build 13 houses in that community that burned by fire, at least we can build four houses for the widow families." For now, survivors are staying in the church and with Pastor MengAun. Their long-term response, he says, will create future outreach. "I think that's the best help, and it will also allow the community to see the love of Christ flowing through the Church in that area."

To find out more about Asian Access, click here.

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Connecting the dots between Peru and Japan

3 January 2013 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Urbana '12 (photo by Barry Sherbeck)

JAPAN (MNN) Meeting Chris Conti at Urbana 12 in St. Louis, Missouri, was a 'God-thing'.

Chris ContiConti is an SIM missionary to Peru. Growing up in a non-Christian family, she felt that God set her apart and protected her throughout her life. In university, she grew and became a leader within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She attended Urbana 1990 where she signed a commitment to pursue full-time missions. Twelve years later (after teaching high school in Indiana for ten), she joined SIM and went to Peru (2003).

Enter Asian Access (A2). A sharp left turn, right?

Not really. Asian Access and SIM are partnering together to recruit and send missionaries to Japan to plant churches. Conti explains, "We're going to be their senders, and they're going to be the receivers on that end. So, we're going to help more on the training side and help them be more equipped to be missionaries, and they're going to take care of them once they get to Japan."

SIM assumes responsibility for recruiting missionaries, as well as the financial accounting and related human resources functions of missionary training and U.S.-based care. Asian Access retains responsibility for championing the overall vision in Japan, managing the strategy of missionary deployment through its vast network of Japanese churches, and caring for Japan-based missionary personnel.

At SIM's international conference, Conti met and got to know an Asian Access representative who was visiting to see what SIM was doing well. A friendship developed as both women talked about each organization's strengths toward a common goal. Conti says, "Our philosophy is ‘from anywhere to anywhere,' so currently I am the person in Peru who helps people go. So, if we have a candidate for Japan, we would go through Asian Access."

By leveraging the specialties of the two mission-sending agencies, they hope to maximize effectiveness toward the goal of planting 1,000 church congregations in Japan by 2020.

How do Peru and Japan fit together? Actually, it's not such a huge leap, notes Conti. "For Peru, specifically, it's very Asian. Our past president (two presidents ago) was half-Japanese (Alberto Fujimori)." Peru has the second-largest population of Japanese people in Latin America after Brazil, and the largest population of Chinese people in Latin America.

As for a timeline on seeing Peruvian missionaries in Japan, Conti reflects that it could happen in the next year or two. "I think there will be more people who will come through our training sessions, mix with SIM workers, and then go out to Japan. We hope that there'll be more missionaries in Japan because of it."

Taking a look at the larger scope, the partnership's innovation has not gone unnoticed in the missions' circles. Last September at the North American Mission Leaders Conference, SIM USA and Asian Access jointly received the eXcelerate Award for excellence and innovation in mission partnership.

Robert & Roberta AdairAlthough the partnership is new, already SIM's first missionaries to serve in Japan are one the field: Robert and Roberta Adair (pictured right). They're working with post-disaster relief post-disaster relief and development, working with young adults and responsibilities within Asian Access.

Please pray for all involved in helping this partnership take root, and give thanks to God for His guidance and blessing in the process. More specifically, says Conti, "Pray for wisdom and how to know what we don't know; how we can work well together, what are some policies and procedures that we haven't thought through that would make it easier."

Check out go2japan for a closer look at what the partnership is doing in Japan.

go2japan.org

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SIM/Asian Access Partnership honored; Now a major call is going out

25 September 2012 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Joe Handley receiving award for Asian Access.USA (MNN) A partnership is not only saving money and opening more ministry opportunities, but it's being rewarded. Over the weekend, Asian Access and SIM USA were presented an award for a strategic partnership at the Missio Nexus North American Leaders Conference in Chicago.

Asian Access had a problem. They had 24 missionaries in Japan, but they couldn't afford them. A2's President Joe Handley says, "We had an economy problem that was increasing over time. And we said, 'What are we going to do? Should we fold, or should we figure out a new way to do this?'"

That's when they sought out SIM USA to help. SIM USA has over 700 missionaries; SIM has over 1600 missionaries in over 65 countries. SIM USA president Bruce Johnson says, "Working together with others is just part of the fabric over decades of SIM. It was a natural conversation for us. It's part of our strategy. It's our heart."

It took some time, but SIM and Asian Access formed a partnership that will allow SIM to service and recruit missionaries for A2's work in Japan. What has it done? Handley says it's saved them a ton of money. "At least $300,000 minimum per year, plus--think of this: we go from one half-time recruiter to eight full-time recruiters just in the United States."

Handley says SIM also helps provide for missionary care.

Johnson says they get a new field. "Together, we're trusting God that over the next 10, 15, 20 years we will help Japanese pastors and church plant 1,000 churches." He also hopes that as a result, these churches will send out 1,000 missionaries.

Johnson says this is a true partnership, not an acquisition. "Asian Access is the leader in Japan. SIM says, 'Your vision now becomes our vision.'"

Handley says the timing couldn't be any better: pastors in Japan are begging for missionaries in Japan. "We are desperate to send people to Japan, and we could not have done it on this scale before the beauty of this partnership with SIM."

Johnson says not just Caucasians, but all ethnicities can have a real impact in Japan.

If you'd like to go to Japan to serve, click here.

Many mission leaders are suggesting this type of a partnership needs to happen more often, which will ultimately save millions of dollars. Unfortunately, Johnson says, there's a fear factor. "The fear factor is 'I'll lose a sense of autonomy, I'll lose a sense of identity.' The uniqueness of this partnership is that actually both missions are strengthened."

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(1-min. of 4-minute clip; starts at 1:43 and runs until 2:43)

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Anxiety mounts following government's 'worst-case scenario' report

11 September 2012 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Usuiso, Japan - Foundations are all that remain one year after a massive tsunami ripped through Japan. (Image courtesy of Joshua Clayton, Asian Access)JAPAN (MNN) Picture this: A massive undersea earthquake, registering at 9.0 on the Richter scale, triggers a tsunami with 110-foot waves, which strikes just south of Tokyo at midnight. Winter winds help fuel the waves, and most of the disaster's 320,000 victims are swept away while they slumber. The rest are finished off by falling objects or fires sparked by the storm.

This was the image Japan's government depicted in a recent "worst case disaster scenario" report.

Mary Jo Wilson"Since March of 2011, they've talked a lot about another quake coming," said Mary Jo Wilson, VP for Japan for Asian Access, "possibly with an epicenter closer to Tokyo, which would have much greater implications for life and loss."

The government's intent for the report was to help officials boost their disaster preparedness, but Wilson noted a different effect on the people of Japan.

"We're seeing just a lot of anxiety," she stated. The Japanese, she explained, have a very low tolerance for ambiguity. "Culturally as a nation, they prefer to avoid uncertainty, and they're sitting on a lot of uncertainty right now."

But there's a silver lining to the unease plaguing Japan. Wilson noted several positive changes resulting from the ministry's relief efforts and the security of eternal salvation through Christ.

"We're seeing an incredible openness and people wanting to know more," she said. "It's not just Christianity as an idea, a concept, the moral code, but really wanting to know more about Christ."

Wilson says uncertainty avoidance and the experience of last year's disaster play a large role in today's Japanese ministries. She mentioned one congregation that's building a new church in Tokyo. Asian Access worked with this ministry before the tsunami and saw leaders shift their approach following the March 2011 disaster.

"After they saw what happened…they decided to build their church differently," said Wilson. "They're preparing to become one of those evacuation centers or a place where they can minister to the community after a large quake."

Last spring, the world's fifth-largest earthquake rocked the island nation of Japan, killing 15,000 people and sending the nuclear power station at Fukushima into a meltdown, releasing 600 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb. Eighty-six communities were completely wiped away, and thousands are still missing after the disaster's one-year anniversary.

Japanese churches stepped up to help care for survivors, and Asian Access stepped in to help with debris removal, rebuilding and physical aid. The hardest-hit region was also the least-reached, and as unbelievers saw more of Christ's love in action their hearts began to soften. As more people open their hearts to the comforting security of Christ's salvation, Japanese ministries are turning their attention to expansion.

"They're looking now at more church-planting," said Wilson. "Navigating that transition has been a challenge."

Pray for Japanese pastors as they tend to growing flocks.

Asian Access received a second $1,000,000 matching challenge in March and has reached $600,000 toward their goal. These funds allow A2 to bolster strategic partnerships formed over the past year and bring more hope and healing to Japan. They have until November 1 to complete this task, and you can help by clicking here.

Feel called to serve in Japan? Click here for Asian Access missionary resources.

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(4-minute clip)

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Lasting change in Burma starts with mindset

25 June 2012 (00:00) | posted by mnn |

Burma's change? Proceed with caution.  

Cover photo courtesy the Methodist Church of Lower Myanmar/Story photo by Tasha Sargent, Bishop Zothan MawiaMYANMAR (MNN) Christians in Myanmar are hopeful. For the first time in decades, real change seems to be coming. Not only that, but the reforms appear to be sticking.  Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's most famous dissident, turned parliament member, doesn't negate that, but she does urge caution.

There are a great number of tasks that face the emerging nation, and it's exactly that challenge to which  Asian Access rises.  The ministry has been working behind the scenes in Myanmar, and, up until recently, was shaped by Bishop Zothan Mawia.

He explains why care would be prudent. "We have been isolated for many years, from 1962, the military took over and then all the education was from English medium to Burmese medium. We were isolated in the sense that going out of Myanmar is also quite difficult. Education was weakened."

The political infrastructure remains fragile and peace with the Maoists is equally frail.  "Slowly, it's moving. We can't change in one day's time, so we need time", explains Mawia.   A leap forward isn't realistic.  "In that sense, we also realize that we have a part to play. We are trying our best to have this mindset change."  Unless the mindset changes internally,  lasting change for Myanmar is fleeting.

From the beginning, Mawia's heart has been bent toward reconciliation.   In order to move forward, he's stressed the importance of understanding others' hurts as well as the willingness to forgive.

That's where Asian Access' programs are most effective.  "For Christians, we believe that the transformation is by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, we hope the very basic mindset will be changed. That  might be better for the community and then hopefully for the country. So far, that's what we have in mind."

The groundwork was already in place, since A2 has been in Myanmar since 2003.  Though he is not actively directing A2's ministry there now,  Mawia was integral in getting A2 launched.  He has since passed the baton onto a new younger leader.

There were three things he noted as obstacles to effective church growth in Myanmar.  One came about as a result of a weakened education system. "Many potential leaders like to go abroad for further study, but their English is weak, so many of them, they cannot."   Going abroad may have been immaterial, since few could afford the study, problem number two.  And the last problem, was cultural differences that created nearly as much frustration as the language barrier.

Asian Access' work of leadership training has been recognized as one of the most creative and fruitful leadership training programs in Asia. The key to its effectiveness is the careful selection of twelve emerging leaders.

First things, first, says Mawia.  "Pastors work very hard, focusing on ministry. But the relationship with God, many times, we just ignore unconsciously. We try to make that series one to make the leaders come back to the love of God."  

These leaders are then invited to be a part of a class that meets four times a year for a week at a time over a two-year period. When the twelve meet together, they are working through an established curriculum that accelerates their growth as spiritual leaders, as well as organizational leaders. At their training sessions, they are resourced by leaders in and outside their country.

Mawia proudly notes the success of a program that thrived despite the oppressive conditions of the country in which they were operating.  The first class graduated with 11, then 12,  and then last May, nine graduates from the 3-year courses were ready for their own ministry.

As part of their training, leaders are also given the skills to determine the needs of the communities and the context in which they live and minister. Upon that knowledge, they then develop skills to equip their congregation for effective service, Mawia explains.   "Though we are a minority, we still have to show forth Jesus Christ, or the power of the Holy Spirit through our life that they may be able to come to God."

New church leaders don't always have a clear path.  However, for the most part, the communities where the  leaders work notice something immediately. "They are also aware that we Christians are someone different. They can accept Christians and say 'you are based on love'. We are not threatening them."

So, the question really is: is it change bringing hope, or is it hope bringing change? 

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Effects of Japan tsunami still spreading

9 May 2012 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Tsunami impacting hearts, Japan, now North America

Pastor Kondo looking out the window of the new volunteer training center.JAPAN (MNN) The effects of the 2011 Japan tsunami and earthquake are even more widespread now than they were 14 months ago.

Reminders of that fateful day remain for miles in Japan, deeply embedded in the hearts of survivors, and stretching as far as another continent.

Debris has been piling up on the coasts of Alaska, the state of Washington, and British Columbia for weeks now. Although most cannot be confirmed to be from the tsunami, many items have Japanese writing on them and include things such as building insulation, shoes, and soccer balls. A motorcycle with Japanese license plates from the tsunami hit area even washed up in British Columbia.

It's proof that the tsunami effects have now spread to North America.

Within the nation, debris removal, home repair, and open space where buildings once sat serve as daily reminders of a tragedy that occurred over a year ago.

There have been large efforts with debris removal, says Asian Access (A2) missionary Takeshi Takazawa. He says most major items have been removed. "If you come and stand in the tsunami-hit area, you will see the vast space without anything: foundations here and there of leftover buildings," notes Takazawa.

The open space is a credit to the debris removal teams, but a painful reminder to tsunami victims. Not only are their cities wiped out, but the spaces of nothingness where buildings and houses used to stand also indicate the large number of people still without permanent homes. Thousands of survivors—originally estimated at 320,000—remain in temporary housing.

The housing situation, in particular, has added to another set of problems. Although the first year of post-tsunami care was about keeping people alive and safe, says Takazawa, "Now a majority of the survivors are in temporary housing. They struggle with a sense of loss of possession as well as loved ones, families, relatives, friends. At the same time, they struggle with the loss of their hometown."

Emotional wounds cut deeper and deeper as days of loss pile on. Suicide has become increasingly prevalent in Japan; suicides are up to five times more frequent in Japan since the tsunami hit than the national average of years prior, says Takazawa.

A2 has been able to step in with removal, rebuilding and physical aid, but especially after a year of aid, their focus is increasingly on emotional and spiritual health.

"The most important thing about rebuilding is rebuilding of the community, rebuilding of the people's heart, way more than the physical space of buildings," explains Takazawa.

A2 is accomplishing this inner rebuilding in large part through consistency. A2 missionaries, in partnership with other organizations and churches, have been visiting survivors in their home on a regular basis, building relationships, committing to just listening to the residents, and praying if they feel comfortable.

This sort of consistent contact even helps in suicide avoidance. Takazawa says since the likelihood of suicide increases as people are isolated for long periods of time, and depression sets in, A2 partners mobilize teams to visit often.

The results of this compassion have been notable. The tsunami-hit region of Japan was one of the least evangelized areas in one of the least evangelized countries in the world. People were closed to the Gospel, and therefore little Gospel work was being done there.

But as A2 and other believers have reached out to the area, a radical change has taken place. People are exceptionally more open to the Good News of Christ and have come to see the church in a completely new light.

"They see the Christian church as something that they need in their society and in their life," says Takazawa. "God has opened receptivity in these communities."

God continues to create beauty from the debris of tragedy, and A2 is serving an integral role in His work. To help A2 in Japan, click here.

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(4-minute clip)

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Japan's hope grows as the nation recovers from tragedy

9 March 2012 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

One year after destruction, Japan's cherry blossoms announce a growing hope

Cherry BlossomsJAPAN (MNN) One year ago this Sunday, a huge earthquake -- the fifth-largest ever recorded -- ripped through the seabed about 40 miles off the coast of Japan.

At magnitude 9.0, the quake shifted Honshu Island 8 feet to the east and made the Earth wobble on its axis. It also sent tsunamis crashing into the coast, tearing a swath of destruction six miles inland and wrecking the nuclear power station at Fukushima.

From that disaster, a meltdown--releasing 600 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb--occurred. 15,000 people are known to have died; thousands are still missing a year later.  

President Joe Handley with Asian Access says the repair task was daunting. "86 communities were completely washed away. People lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their loved ones." Yet, rebuilding quickly began, and the picture of Japan today is painted amidst the hope of the cherry blossoms budding now. "Out of ashes of this disaster, we've seen hope on the rise."

As word of the scope of the disaster spread, so did the number of people who wanted to help. "The Japanese Self Defense Force were some of the first up in the region bringing help and hope, then believers across Japan--Japanese churches in particular--have been the unsung heroes. Then, believers around the world came to rally."

Here's the irony, says Handley. The hardest-hit region was also "the single least-reached region of Japan. Japan is known as one of the largest unreached people group in the world, and this particular region is the single most unreached sector of Japan."

The walls of disinterest in the Gospel began to give way. "Out of this situation, people have been asking, 'Why would you do this? Why would you care for us so much?' and, 'Why are you the ones that are helping us through these emotional situations when many others are doing nothing?' Because of that, many are coming to Christ."

Asian Access mobilized 30 tons of aid with the help of a $1 million dollar matching grant last year. That aid has gone a long way to spiritual healing. "The churches have been at the forefront of providing relief. So, as people have really faced the emotional and the spiritual trauma that has hit them, the Church has really risen to the occasion to meet people's needs."

Asian Access launched a strategic sending partnership with SIM USA to help meet the needs. Handley remarked that for the first time in his 30-year cross-cultural ministry career, "This pastor was asking me to send hundreds of missionaries. I've never in my life seen local pastors from a country practically begging me to send hundreds of missionaries. It wasn't just one pastor. It was a few."

It's just the beginning. Asian Access hopes to continue to provide funds and also missionaries to support them in this work. "Pastors think we have about a two-year window to really invest in Japan, spiritually. This is a unique time for Japan. Some have called it a 'kairos' moment, or a 'God' moment, for Japan."

The good news: A2 just received a second USD$1,000,000 matching opportunity to bring hope and healing to the country. These new funds allow A2 to continue to bolster the strategic partnerships created over the last year.     

Handley explains, "We continue to invest in key pastors and leaders throughout the region, developing community centers that are centers of hope, centers for transformational and church planting efforts, even investing in small businesses that have been completely devastated."

"It's cherry blossom season," Handley says. In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize clouds, besides being a metaphor for life. In this case, A2 teams have given life meaning through the Gospel. "Through this season of hope, this million-dollar matching opportunity will help us come alongside key churches and send more missionaries to help them share the love and hope that lies within us."

To give toward the match, either send a check to Asian Access marked: "$1M Matching Gift" or give online. If you indicate "For Japan Matching Gift" on your check, your gift will be doubled.

 

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(2 minute clip; the 2nd of 3 stories)

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South Asian nation struggles to shape itself

17 January 2012 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Church and ministry leaders asked to be part of draft body

S. ASIA (MNN)Drafting a new constitution is impossible without peace, as one nation in South Asia (unnamed for security reasons) is discovering.

The country has been dealing with contentious political wrangling over the shape of the government even as missed deadlines threatened to erupt once more in a deadly rebel insurgency.

This week, a former government leader encouraged reconciliation between the government and the rebels, and at the same time tried to woo fringe parties to be a part of the drafting process.  

Joe Handley with Asian Access says the opportunity for church leaders and A2 country directors to help shape the future of this country is unprecedented. "They've been invited in to speak into the constitution for probably what is the first time for the church. Pray for wisdom as these leaders work with the political apparatus of the country to draft things that work well for society, work well for the government, work well for the people, but also empower the church."

However, Handley notes that at the same time, "The challenge is that this is also a threat to many of the groups that are involved in this particular country. Many of these groups have been known to burn down churches and actually kill pastors. The leaders of Asian Access in South Asia have received a threat for ransom."

Pressures on Christians are immense, but so is the hope. Getting in on the ground floor would enable them to create a safe haven. "This is a new era, and we're praying and hoping that they can help influence this constitution in such a way that the church would stand stronger and have not only their rights, but also be able to practice their faith in freedom."

Handley says, right now, the oppression and harassment against believers is severe enough that church leaders have had to take some precautions. "When they're meeting with folks and people show an interest in Christ, and they're about ready to get baptized, they go through this list of seven questions. It's a very delicate situation. They're quite open, but they're really hoping that this is going to be the birth of a new era in the country."

It's an examination, of sorts, to assess the level of commitment. It also serves as a reality check.   

1.   Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?

2.   Are you willing to lose your job?

3.   Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?

4.   Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?

5.   Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?

6.   Are you willing to go to prison?

7.   Are you willing to die for Jesus?

If he or she is willing to answer "Yes" to all of these questions, then A2 leaders invite the person to sign on the bottom of the paper that of their own free will they have decided to follow Jesus. If they refuse, it's more likely that they may be operating as a police plant.

The risk: If a new convert signs and is caught, it's three years behind bars. The one who did the evangelizing faces six years in prison.

The country is predominantly Hindu, but over the past few decades Christianity has grown in popularity -- especially among poor and tribal peoples, attracted by the opportunity to escape the rigid caste system.  Says Handley, "It's one of the fastest-growing regions of the church for the last 10 to 15 years, but it's growing under these enormous pressures. Right now, there's a unique opportunity to influence the direction of the country by the redrafting of this constitution."

Christian leaders have also been demanding that the government formally recognize their status. As for church leaders and A2 staff, he adds, "They're desperate for our prayers. They have asked us over and over again recently, 'Please mobilize troops for prayer for South Asia.'"

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(4 min.)

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Pastors providing relief in Japan, but tired

6 December 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Hundreds of missionaries needed for Japan, along with community centers

JAPAN (MNN)More problems plagued Japan's damaged nuclear power plant over the weekend. According to reports, 45 tons of highly-radioactive water leaked from the Fukushima power station into a gutter that leads to the Pacific Ocean. This was the result of cracks in the runoff container's concrete wall.

Adrian De Visser speaking at a pastors' retreat in JapanWhile this is another setback in the March 11 devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami, the work of Japanese Christians is ongoing. Their ongoing care to the disaster victims in the region is nothing short of amazing. This hard work may be what propels the church into future outreach.

President of Asian Access Joe Handley is in Japan. Speaking to us through Skype, he told MNN's Greg Yoder that Asian Access went into the disaster zone to host a pastor's seminar/retreat. It was held for those who lived through the triple disaster but who have also been at the forefront of the relief efforts. "We wanted to go encourage them, strengthen them, come alongside them, and provide counsel."

Asian Access invited Adrian DeViser, national director of A2/Sri Lanka, who experienced the Asian tsunami in 2004.

Handley says these pastors have not only provided the initial relief, but they're doing all sorts of things: "anything from small business creation, to providing aid, counsel and grief care when necessary. But they're tired. They're really worn out."

Handley says because of the efforts of the church, they're now more trusted in the community. The city of Ishinomaki is just one example. "The city governing officials were touched by what the church was doing. They told them, 'You know, there are a lot of people providing relief, but you guys really have a heart, and we want to help you.' So the walls between community and church have completely fallen."

However, the churches are now in a situation where they need their space to handle the incredible growth, while also continuing to help the needy. Handley says they've "started to establish centers for hope. And they're hoping to construct some buildings that will be dormitories and relief centers so they can move out of the churches being the centers to actually having a relief center."

Asian Access is raising money for this purpose.

These centers could be instrumental in seeing many turn to Christ. Handley says, "This is a new season in Japan. Pastor after pastor said to me, 'Joe, we need hundreds of missionaries to come to Japan. This is the hour.'"

Because people are searching for hope, Handley believes there's an openness to Christ. "These pastors say we only have a small window here to invest. And that window is anywhere from two to three years. They say, 'We're desperate. We need help.'"

Just one example of the hunger is a church that had a congregation of 10 people. It now numbers 50. "Ten of those people have now been baptized. And all 50 of them have said, 'We so love these people and this church we're going to invite three people to come on Christmas.' "

If you're interested in becoming a missionary to Japan, supporting the work of Asian Access, or simply want more information, go to http://www.go2japan.org.

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Partnership to plant 1,000 churches by 2020

14 November 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Asian Access makes significant partnership just in time for responsive hearts in Japan

JAPAN (MNN) The 1st century church shared everything to accomplish Kingdom growth. Why shouldn't 21st century ministries do the same?

A2/SIM Partnership announcedA strategic partnership uniting Asian Access and SIM USA was recently formed with the aim of sending more church-planting missionaries to Japan.

"In this unique season, the needs are phenomenal," explains Asian Access president Joe Handley. "We're seeing response rates to Christ like I've never seen in my lifetime. The need for people to go and help plant churches is significant. Japanese pastors across the country, and particularly in the regions most affected by the tsunami and the nuclear plant disaster, have huge vision to plant churches, and they've asked us for our help."

Openness to the Gospel has increased since a March 2011 tsunami ravaged one of the least-reached areas of Japan, which happens to be one of the least-reached nations with the Gospel in the world.

Plans for the SIM partnership started long before the tsunami hit, though. Asian Access went through a three-year process of examining organizations' DNA, vision, mission and core values.

Handley says Asian Access felt led to form a partnership with another organization partially for economic reasons, hoping to be better Kingdom stewards. But the ministry also needed someone to help them with a big project: "To establish a church planting network that would establish 1,000 churches across Japan."

According to the agreement--which is not a merger, but a way of truly doing mission together--SIM will partner with Asian Access to recruit and send missionaries to Japan to plant churches. Asian Access will still be the key leader on the field and will manage the work and oversee missionary care.

Joe Handley, President of Asian AccessHandley is confident in the decision. "SIM has been around for many years. It's a very stable organization, and they had the economy of scale to come alongside of us and help us do the very things we were looking for."

Asian Access prayerfully decided on a partnership with SIM, and God blessed their timing. People are more open to the Gospel than ever following such devastation in Japan, and now Asian Access is more prepared than ever to share the Truth with them.

Pray for this new partnership to be a catalyst for Kingdom growth in Japan. Pray that the Lord would guide SIM and Asian Access as they steward their resources to come alongside churches and pastors in Japan. Pray also that the financial resources to establish 1,000 churches by 2020 would come available.

If you would like to get involved in the work Asian Access and SIM are doing in Japan, visit go2japan.org.

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Japan breathes sigh of relief with Typhoon Roke's near miss

22 September 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Typhoon Roke took a swipe at the disaster zone in Japan

washed out road (photo courtesy Jeff Johnston)  

JAPAN (MNN) ― It also brought evacuations, flooding and more worry to the country struggling to recuperate from the tsunami, quake and nuclear disaster in March. Although a fierce storm, it weakened on approach to Fukushima as a Category 1 hurricane, before veering off. Japan’s government took no chances. Aside from evacuation orders, the weather agency issued warnings for landslides and flooding throughout the main island of Honshu, with high waves in coastal areas.

Joe Handley, president of Asian Access says their teams will continue to do what they've been doing in response to the crisis. They have a three-phase response they've implemented since the tsunami struck.  "The initial stages were just to get a feel for what was happening, provide immediate assistance as much as possible, and then to do a discovery process, finding out what the real needs were on the ground."

Cleanup began and ministry teams established a communications hub in order to developing resources that would mobilize Christians worldwide to help. Relationships have already been established, too. "One of the common stories that's being heard throughout the eastern part of Japan is from little kids, talking to their parents and grandparents when they see the aid workers coming. They've become so well known in their work, that you'll have little kids that say things like 'Grandma! Jesus is coming! Jesus has brought us food!'"

A2 also partnered with Churches Helping Churches, Billy Graham Association and Alpha/Japan in hosting "Oasis," a retreat for pastors and their spouses from the affected regions.

The second phase began this past summer. Handley says, "We're able to take in a number of requests for all the areas and find out strategic ways that we can come alongside the churches in providing for physical and spiritual relief in this hour." Roke's march may provide a setback in Phase Two growth, but that remains to be seen once the storm moves out of the area. IF the network of churches was well-grounded, it may bolster Phase One response. 

Phase Three focuses on the future. "The place where Christ's name has not been very prominent all of a sudden is becoming quite the story. Churches are a key force for providing aid. We've come alongside these churches and helped equip them to be the centers for relief in their communities."

Asian Access/Japan is preparing to partner with churches across Japan to be the hands and feet of Jesus and develop a longer-term plan for holistic church multiplication. Within the next three to five years, Handley says, "There's a dream by the local churches and a plan that goes with those dreams to see over 1000 new churches planted in this region, all with the mindset of the holistic outreach center."

Handly goes on to explain that because the churches meet the needs of the community and have proven their commitment, doors are opening in ways never imagined. "This part of Japan is the single most unreached part of the country. So you have not only one of the largest unreached people groups in the world, but within that country and this people, you have the single largest area that has been somewhat neglected by the church."

There's more here.

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Secrecy, spies and suspicion: part of the history of the church in Asia

5 July 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Though their history reads like a mystery, the church in Asia writes a happier chapter

ASIA (MNN) - Secrecy, spies and suspicion: they are all elements found in a novel or movie of intrigue. You'd expect  to see such a storyline unfolding in connection with a mystery, but not the church.

However, Joe Handley with Asian Access says that's exactly what was happening amongst believers throughout Asia. "Because the church was underground--and you had some churches that were sanctioned by the government, and others that were not--there was a sense of ‘Will that person turn me in to the government authorities?'"

Worse yet, "It got to the point where they just didn't know if they could trust another. They were having family members turn family members in, and pastors they thought were pastors who were spies turning people in. That culture of mistrust was heavy."

Seeing a healthy evangelical body emerge from the devastation of this cultural destruction has been a direct answer to prayer. Handley explains, "They started coming together through Asian Access, and over the course of a few years, there started to build unification amongst the pastors and churches in the capital city." In fact, he adds, these pastors are now investing in the lives of others. "Over a ten year period, that now has bled over into many of the provinces where there is a remarkable unity that is building in the country amongst the pastors."

This new crop of pastors have cast off the suspicion, and they are eagerly embracing the training A2 offers. Even better, Handley says, the ministry didn't have to do all the work. "These pastors already have a passion for church planting. They work mainly in house churches, and they want to also finish the task of world evangelism."

A2 chose a man to put feet to the mission who had both business savvy and a loose grip on the ministry reigns. Since he didn't have an agenda, the church leaders he was training and discipling had the freedom to explore their own strengths. As a result, "They have a vision not only to plant churches in their own country, but across Asia, stretching from their country and moving all across the 10/40 Window."

The unity this team built was most obvious in its solidarity. Handley says this group made plans to travel to the Capetown Congress (Lausanne) for World Evangelization together. When their government prevented them from attending, their absence not only spoke of their unified stand, but it also unified the rest of the Christians there in prayer for this Asian country.

Building on that momentum has been exciting. Leadership training begins with the emerging leaders of the church body. A select group from the big metropolitan centers gets training from Asian Access. From there, it's taken on its own life. "We call ourselves ‘A2,' for short; they call the secondary level of training ‘B2,' and now the B2 level graduates have actually started ‘C2.'"

The goal: to be a vibrant community of servant leaders with vision, character and competence, leading the church across Asia. As their country director says, "The tide is moving toward more openness, and it's just a matter of time." 

Vision and growth are not without challenges, especially in a country that is hostile to Christians. The region is known for the persecution and harassment of believers. Like those who stood with the missing delegation at the Capetown Congress, Handley urges a similar response. "They need us to pray that God would protect them, that God give them peace and sanity in the midst of what sometimes can feel like chaos, and that God would take care of them and open the path."

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Church growing in Japan, relief continues

23 May 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Asian Access reports churches are growing in aftermath of tsunami

Kent Muhling prays with people following the tsunami in Japan

JAPAN (MNN) ― It's been nearly three months since Japan was torn apart by an earthquake and tsunami. The billions of dollars in damage sent the country into a deeper recession as many jobs were lost, businesses were left crippled, and in some cases--destroyed by the disaster. While it was bad news for the economy, the tragedy has given the church a boost.

Joe Handley is President of Asian Access, a ministry that supports the local church in Japan. He's in Fukushima, Japan now getting a good look at what God is doing through the church post-earthquake. He says of all the relief groups he's seeing in the region, the greatest response has come from "Japanese churches from all over the country -- Okinawa, Tokyo, Hiroshima. It's just unbelievable the amount of love Japanese churches have mobilized to reach out and help clean up at this time."

In talking with them, Handley says churches have a new desire to plant churches, especially in areas where there we no churches. "One of these areas, Iwate, is one of the least-churched regions of the entire country of Japan, and yet pastors have a real heart to reach out to them at this time of need."

Handley says one denomination wants to plant 50 new churches in this area, while another group wants to plant churches in the seaside villages that have never had a church.

Before the disaster, church growth was on the decline. This is really a new season for the church," says Handley. "Networks are forming that are brand new -- churches from across denominations that are saying, 'God is calling us for such a time as this.'"

Immediately following the quake, there was a spiritual awakening. Previously taboo, the Japanese were now open to talking about spiritual things, including the Bible. Handley says that continues. "As missionaries, Japanese pastors and congregants are delivering aid, more often than not they're getting questions: 'Why are you doing this? Why would you come up in these affected regions? Where is God in the midst of all this?' This is truly a new hour spiritually, and it could change the shape of the spiritual climate of the entire country."

Handley says one congregation in the devastation zone has had many opportunities to share Christ. "They've lost their own homes. They have no food. They have no clothing. But, they are having spiritual conversations with people and I have heard countless stories of people coming to Christ through that church and other churches."

Handley is asking you to pray for Japanese Christians working their country. "They're overwhelmed with the need. And they're overwhelmed also, to some degree, with the groups that are coming in that they're trying to facilitate. So pray for great grace for them and wisdom as they receive teams."

Also, Asian Access has a $1 million matching grant. About $500,000 has already been raised, but your support is needed now to meet the rest of it that will allow them to provide spiritual and physical relief in this crucial time.

There's more detail on the matching gift fund here.

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Tsunami victims still in great need physically, spiritually

18 May 2011 (03:00) | posted by mnn |

Relief work slow, but significant

Tsunami relief work in Japan (photo courtesy Kent Muhling)

JAPAN (MNN) ― Two months after the tsunami and earthquake that devastated Japan, relief work is ongoing.

An Asian Access (A2) missionary says some areas have seen significant developments, including the restoration of electricity and shorter lines at the gas station.

But other regions have not been so lucky. A2's Kent Muhling says some are still without electricity and running water, and many remain in evacuation centers with no homes to return to.

Asian Access has a great deal of work in Japan and has been helping with relief where possible. Recently, Muhling and another A2 missionary joined a church in distributing aid from the back of a truck. They distributed goods to regions where neighborhoods are still in ruins.

In the midst of the ongoing sorrow, however, Asian Access has been able to preach the hope of Christ to many.

In a recent Facebook Note, Muhling reflected on an encounter with a woman whose life had been turned upside down in the tsunami. Interestingly, her kindergarten Bible had also shaken loose in the disaster and became the first thing the woman saw when she opened her storage shelves.

The woman was not a believer but agreed with Muhling that God may want her to read the Bible. Muhling was able to pray with her and share Christ's love.

In a separate account, a team member had a dream, or vision of sorts, of a particular man in a particular city. When A2 was working in that city, they came across a man just like the one the missionary had seen in his dream. They were able to share the Gospel with the man and provide him with food and a bicycle.

Relief work of the landscape and of the soul is slow going, but throughout Muhling's musings, he points out the purpose of it all:

"When one considers the magnitude of the disaster, handing out a truckful of supplies to only a few dozen people, having a five-minute conversation and a short prayer with one woman, or giving a man a coat, a bicycle, and sharing that 'Jesus loves you' may not seem like much. But to those few individuals, it had great impact."

You can help provide physical aid and spiritual sustenance for survivors of the Japan tsunami. Learn more about A2's work in that area here.

 

 

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