Christian Organization Makes Progress in Hostile Regions

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Human rights violations open door for humanitarian aid and Gospel message.

With the eyes of the international community watching areas such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea, many regions of the world are seeing a dramatic spike in both human rights abuses and religious persecution at the hands of governments, militias and militant groups.

Burma (Myanmar) in Southeast Asia and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa have recently caught the attention of the U.S. State Department, prompting them to label both as “Countries of Particular Concern” in relation to religious freedom.

These regions have been areas of continued focus for a faith based, mission organization located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Strategic World Impact (SWI) is a rapid response, short-term mission agency that enters difficult areas with critical relief supplies and the good news of the Gospel. They focus on places of war, disaster and Christian persecution, and have been working in such areas for the past eight years.

Recently, SWI has been able to deliver humanitarian relief to the Karen people, an ethnic minority group in Burma that has suffered intense persecution, forced labor and death at the hands of the country’s military. Tens of thousands of Karens have been forced to flee their native homeland and now live in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

Kevin Turner, president and founder of SWI said, “Working on the border region is plagued with difficulty but the needs are tremendous. We are currently offering the only four year college education for thousands of refugees who have fled Burma.”

Turner added, “One of the main things they’ve asked for is education and we at SWI believe this is essential for the people.”

Additionally, Christian persecution is at a high point in the African country of Eritrea. On December 22, there were arrests of at least 40 pastors, elders and leaders of five Christian churches banned by the country.

These recent arrests also included businessmen, a government employee at the Ministry of Trade & Industry and 15 people who happened to be present at a music shop run by one of the churches. Reportedly, the country’s Security Office now holds a list of church leaders who should be taken into custody.

Aside from this incident, there are an estimated 1,778 Christians imprisoned for their faith, many of which are pastors and have no means to support their families during confinement. Some are even kept in metal shipping containers.

Many are also held at military confinement camps even though ministers are supposed to be exempt from military service. And although the government professes respect for the guarantees of religious freedom, the persecution of Christians continues.

Despite these challenges, SWI has made inroads in delivering aid and the message of hope for those suffering for their faith in the region.

Turner stated, “The Government of Eritrea continues to put out propaganda on how they’re treating their citizens yet Christians are not free to worship as they see fit. Independent news is shut down and outside communication is highly limited.”

He added, “Shipping containers serve as makeshift prisons for those who have continued to worship God and spread the Gospel. This country needs our prayers and our support.”

In addition to the efforts in Africa and Southeast Asia, SWI has funded, built and continues to support a school in the heart of Islamic Pakistan.

Turner noted, "We now have 154 students and these are Muslims, Christians and Hindus who are actually attending our school so they aren’t just Christians. However, we're trying to give them a Christian education. Education is the key to changing lives in that region."

This past December, the school, along with several churches in the area were attacked by local Muslims. Despite minor damage to the school, SWI has seen progress and enrollment continues to increase.

Strategic World Impact continues to grow in size and scope. Missionaries, funding and support are needed for ongoing projects in Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and other regions. For more information, visit http://www.swi.org or call 1-877-TEAM-SWI (832-6794). Kevin Turner is available for interviews.

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Jessica Miller
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