10 Years, 10 Countries, 10 Stories

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Flying high above the jungle canopy of the Sarawak interior on the island of Borneo, approaching the Bario plateau, we were filled with excitement. The journey so far had been eventful, flying halfway to Bario the previous day and then returning because of a fuel leak.  That evening our hosts from the Miri S.I.B. Church (Evangelical Church of Borneo) led a lively prayer meeting for us. Later that night, Maggie had a vision of a line of ladies holding platters of grapes. Arriving at check-in the following morning, there were only two seats available and so our three translators were left behind.  At the midway point we had prayed Proverbs 3:5-6 together on the tarmac and entrusted ourselves to God and hoped that someone would speak English in Bario! As we stepped from the aircraft, we were greeted by a line of ladies from the Kelabit tribe holding pineapples with straws so that we could have a refreshing drink – the first of many encouragements. To our delight,  the headman of the village spoke English and he was the first up for prayer, after Jan preached on the paralysed man being let down through the roof to Jesus’ feet. He was moved to tears and fell to the floor.  A lady suffering with a bad back from working long hours in the paddy field was anointed with oil and prayer and crashed to the floor.  A few minutes later she was on her feet dancing about as a demonstration that she was healed. Many healings ensued amongst the 100 women and handful of men present as the Holy Spirit moved. Later on two delegates came forward independently to say that they had seen flames emerging from people’s heads as they received prayer – a fitting climax for the first Flame International conference.

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The TV was loud, the air hot and humid and darkness was rapidly approaching as we sat in the first-class section of the ancient Freetown – Lungi Peninsular ferry.  On the crowded deck we could just about make out the shapes of the shipwrecks which were still littering the harbour, following the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone the previous year.  This was Flame’s first African mission and for those of us who had not already been to Africa, the ferry was providing a colourful introduction. On the crowded decks we found it encouraging to discover that many of the women were widows travelling to the Flame International Healing for Women Conference.  Little did we know that even before the conference had begun God was at work saving one precious life on the ferry. Later on in the week we heard how one Muslim lady had been befriended by some of the delegates on board.  This lady, travelling with her small baby, was suicidal.  She fully intended making her way to the Liberian border, where she hoped to be killed in the current fighting.  However the Lord had other plans and she was persuaded by her new Christian friends to come to the conference.  Later in the week, she accepted Jesus as her saviour and was invited to live in the home of one of the delegates after the conference.   This was possibly the first life saved by God through a Flame International conference.

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They came pouring out of the bush in their hundreds; some on the back of lorries or trucks, some on bicycles, a few in rickety cars, some having walked for several days. They came with nothing except a fervent belief in the word of God – that he loves, heals, delivers and does what he says. Many were illiterate and most had no particular position in the local church. They came to participate in a Flame International conference – a rather grand description for an open air meeting held over several days in the grounds of an abandoned school. The buildings had formerly been a centre for the Lord’s Resistance Army, who at that time were still committing atrocities close by in the Kavirondo region of Northern Uganda. Our ‘platform’ was built from mangrove trunks covered (sometimes) in a large sheet of bright blue plastic; there was a microphone of sorts which picked up every gust of wind but also  provided some means of communicating with the crowds, which eventually grew to over 2,000. I remember 3 UN tents, but most of the participants sat either in the shade of a  banyan tree – if they were lucky – or in the open and incredibly hot sun. It was like walking with Jesus during his time on earth; the blind saw, the deaf heard, the crippled threw away their sticks, those in pain recovered and even some cancers miraculously disappeared. Many received great inner healing but this is always more difficult to measure, so it was great to have so much visual evidence of God’s mighty power. Many received deliverance, including one noisy lady who put paid to our nice western belief that no deliverance need be loud or messy! I remember the children. Some came in their neat uniforms after school but many were there all day, and I was amazed at how quiet and still they were. Were they incredibly well disciplined? Were they traumatised? Were they simply full of a desire to hear about God? Whatever the reasons, they responded enthusiastically to a simple talk about faith, and when asked if they would like to give their lives to Christ, nearly all came forward with great happiness. Then there were the twins. Some people in this part of the world still believed twins were a sign of bad luck, but a lovely young mother had resisted all attempts to sacrifice her younger child, and in the face of opposition she gloried in the two babies which God had given her. This was only one of many examples of strong and simple faith which left us feeling hugely grateful to the Lord for all that he did in the lives of so many – and humbled by all that the participants had taught us.

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I first went to Rwanda with Flame International on a ‘recce’ trip. The date was 18th June 2007. It was a country I had longed to see and that God had laid on my heart, and finally I reached it. As we came in to land at Kigali Airport, I could see nothing but hills, mostly covered in banana trees, and a few small huts. My brain mused over the hope that there would be at least enough flat ground to land a plane – and at the last minute a runway appeared. Like any new country, the things that hit you first are the smells, the heat, the warmth of the people, the poverty, the traffic and the bananas. Bananas everywhere! There were four of us on the trip – Jan, Mark, Ronel and Anne. The first evening we were collected by a pastor and taken to see his radio station, transmitting Christian radio around Rwanda. Where once there was hatred on the airwaves, during the genocide, now it was God’s love and hope that filled the evening air. He drove us up to a nearby hill and showed us the huge transmitter on the top, rising tall into the night sky. As we stood on that hill, looking down on the lights of the capital city, a God-moment occurred that was to change the course of history, not just for Flame International, but also we believe for Rwanda. Jan was struck by the huge unjust bloodshed that this land had witnessed, both in the genocide of 1994 and even before that. And there began a deep revelation of the need for this land to be cleansed. This red earth, this dust and clay, it was crying out and needed to be cleansed. Burdened now with this mission, we nervously approached the Archbishop’s office, in the hope of being granted a few minutes with this man of God. He agreed. We were ecstatic. Ushered into his presence, Jan spat it out in two minutes flat, ‘It’s the land, Your Grace, it needs to be cleansed.” A smile spread over Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini’s face. We were friends already! For many years he had also been burdened, “We fed our people to the fish and the dogs, the land is cursed and cries out for cleansing. I have been waiting.” Thus began a long friendship with the Archbishop, as he worked to facilitate the work of God through Flame International and later Ellel Ministries in Rwanda. Nine months later we were back. Byumba, Northern Rwanda, a week’s conference for pastors and leaders. Three days of the conference had already passed. It was now the fourth evening and time for the planned teaching on ‘cleansing of the land’. Jan declared boldly what she felt God was saying, and then sat down. It was over to them. A young man came forward and with great pain confessed wholeheartedly the sin that Rwanda’s leaders had committed on the land. Others followed and confessed, repented, cried, sang and knelt before their God. Many were in tears, the whole room felt the presence of God. It was the beginning, here comes the rain. At 3am that night we woke, startled from sleep. The whole room was shaking. Not just the room, the land itself was moving. Lights started coming on around the compound, people were up, some talking in low voices, others lost in their own thoughts… It was a small earthquake, but was it the physical outworking of a spiritual event? A sheer coincidence or evidence that the land was changing, moving, from darkness to light, and on the road to cleansing? A year later Flame handed over the vision in Rwanda to Ellel Ministries and since then they have taught the topic of ‘cleansing the land’ in every diocese in the country. Hallelujah!

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Months before leaving on the Flame International mission trip to Nzara, Sudan, we were fervently praying in our weekly prayer meeting as we were told that there was some unrest in the region due to the Lord’s Resistance Army. It was going to be my very first trip to Africa and I had wanted to go for many years. I was so excited and had been preparing some teaching on emotional healing. But in my private prayer time I felt nervous, and at the same time very expectant – I felt God was going to do the miraculous in Nzara.  I began to have a recurring dream, in fact it happened three times.  I saw a tall thin man hanging onto a stick. His leg seemed withered from the knee down. I felt that God was going to heal this crippled man. During the conference I kept looking and searching, there was a man who was crippled but he was not on a stick. I couldn’t find the man from my recurring dream. I looked and looked but I couldn’t see him. I said to God, “I must have got it wrong, he must not exist.”  The conference finished and everyone was leaving.  I looked at the back of the church and there he was – the man on the stick! I asked Jan if I could go and pray for him, she said yes and I took a member of the team with me. His name was Adam and he was about 17 years old.  He’d had a motorbike accident about eight months before and his leg did not recover and he could not walk. I asked if I could pray for him and told him how I had seen him in my dreams back in England. God wanted to do a miracle and heal him.  We both prayed and I asked him to walk about 10 feet without the stick and he did. Then I asked him to walk back to the seat.  He did walk, but there was some pain.  We prayed again and encouraged his faith for a miracle.  His healing wasn’t complete but, praise to the Lord Jesus Christ, months later I heard he was still walking!

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Many years ago I was born to missionary parents in a place called Buye, writes Mark Leakey. It was a small mission station perched high on a hill in what was then Ruanda-Urundi, in central Africa. Later, the twin kingdoms achieved independence from the Belgians and became two separate, sovereign states. Later still, in what had become Burundi, there was a genocide: a quarter of a million Hutus were slaughtered by the ruling Tutsis. My father, who knew 33 Burundian pastors who were butchered, was betrayed, arrested and thrown into a death cell. He was fortunate to escape with his life. The President, Michel Micombero, had my father deported.  It was over 20 years before my parents returned to Burundi, the country to which they had given so many years of service; they were formally received at a red carpet ceremony at the start of a moving visit of reconciliation. 15 years or so later and I was part of a Flame International team that was on a mission to Buye. I stood in the church, full on a Sunday morning, to speak. To speak in the church where my parents had been married and where my father had stood to speak on countless occasions, many years before. And later that week to teach and to minister to Burundians in the same church that had stood unscathed throughout the genocide and the years of civil war that followed. Still later, and through a remarkable sequence of God-given occurrences, I was part of a small Flame team that met the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, just a few kilometres from Buye.  It just happened that this man, a full-on Christian, had also been born there. Unknown to each other, we had grown up on the same mission station. His father had been killed in the genocide.  We shared memories of Buye before we all linked arms and prayed for his country. Before we left he grasped my hand. “My brother!”, he exclaimed with a broad smile. I felt a sense of the Lord demonstrating to me and to my father, by then ‘full of years’, that his Kingdom survives even the very worst that man can do, a sense of His drawing together events in a circle.  All those years of service had not been in vain!

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The Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem are separated from Israeli West Jerusalem by a towering concrete wall. The controversial territories are home to just under 200,000 inhabitants who cannot leave without permission from the authorities.  The urban territory is packed with hospitals, churches, mosques and shops amidst the biblically significant sites of Bethlehem and the Field of the Shepherds, where the angels announced the arrival of Jesus. It was in one of the East Jerusalem churches that I, as part of the Flame team, found myself teaching a small group about the Father Heart of God.  The pastor of the church was a dynamic man of only 27, who’s maturity defied his age.  He had been part of the persecuted church in the Gaza strip, from which he had had to flea for his life a few years before.  Very quickly I realised that, though I was there to teach, I would learn more from him and his congregation than they would from me. We went to the local Islamic hospital where our pastor friend’s remarkable approach was to go where the worst, most hopeless cases were and pray for their healing.  We spent time praying and asking the families of patients if we could pray for them.  They were delighted to be prayed with. We felt the presence of the Lord in the hospital wards.  That evening we prayed for a Palestinian man who worked in a Christian home for severely disabled children. His sore back was completely healed.  The next day we visited the Children’s home to pray and I was struck by the compassion of the staff.  We prayed peace for Jerusalem every day and for the strengthening of the church, a task it was a privilege to perform with Flame International.

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Several years ago I went with a small Flame International team to a certain rather large country in the Far East.  We taught in a big factory, owned by a Christian businessman.  A factory that doubled as a Bible school.  There were some 80 or 90 young students there, whose passion for the Lord Jesus was truly awe-inspiring.  As well as the usual Flame International topics, we were asked to teach on cross-cultural, mission related subjects.  I took them through a brief resume of the slave trade and the early missionaries to Africa.  The students were passionate about mission. About the 10:40 window.  About Africa. Last year we placed two young, Far Eastern couples into South Sudan. We had taught one of the couples in the factory.  Their sacrifice was amazing; one couple had to leave their two year old child behind.  They spoke hardly any English, the lingua franca of South Sudan.  Initially they were met with suspicion.  Life was not easy; the environment was strange.  But they soon began preaching and healing the sick. In January this year, a small group of us spent a few days with the two couples in South Sudan, before accompanying them back to Entebbe for their flight home.  We had an amazing time of prayer together.  There was a strong sense of the Lord revealing his strategic plans for birthing the work of the missionaries in South Sudan. And of the significance of the nearby Nile, heading north through the Islamic countries of Sudan and Egypt.  Of the missionaries establishing a bridgehead.  As we prayed a violent tropical thunderstorm unleashed itself around us. In May this year we again headed East and spent a week with one of the couples. They had experienced many delays, frustrating their plans to get back to Africa.  We were able to encourage them in their time of near despair.  A short while later visas were secured and they returned to Africa; some of us helped them re-establish themselves on their mission field in South Sudan. This is a story of mission, of enormous sacrifice, of obedience. A story that reflects the ongoing ‘Back to Jerusalem’ vision that God gave the church in that land, many years ago. Flame International has had a small but significant part to play in that process.

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Flame International conducted most of its ministry in its first ten years on the continent of Africa, but for the last few years we have been called to consider other places, including Israel, the Far East and Armenia. Some of the old silk routes running from China to Israel run right through Armenia, a country at a crossroads. It has Muslim countries to the west and south, and has Georgia and the former Soviet Union countries to the north –  Azerbaijan and the five ‘Stans’ lie to the east. It is officially a Christian country with a long church history dating back to 301 AD.  Teams have now visited three times: for a recce, for prayer in 2011, and in 2012 to pilot our ministry with selected church leaders. Armenia is a delightful country with beautiful scenery, populated by artistic, warm-hearted people, but it also has an exceptionally troubled history. Its geographical location at this strategic crossroads has made it a battleground many times over, with much blood being shed on the land.  Before and during the First World War there was a particularly turbulent and tragic period when up to 1.5 million Armenians were displaced, driven out and in many cases brutally killed. In the 20th century, this genocide continued to have a profound effect on the national psyche and their view of the world.  In addition, Armenia fell under communist rule during the Soviet era, quashing its Christian traditions for 70 years. Twice as many Armenians now live abroad as in the country itself, which is home to about 3 million. The nation often feels to me to be sad in mood, even distressed, holding on to these traumatic memories. Ongoing armed border disputes with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh result in regular new bereavements and a reopening of wounds, on a smaller scale but still deeply felt. 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the genocide, which left such livid and deep scars.  Flame has a vision to offer the good news of the healing, forgiving and reconciling power of the risen Christ to those who would listen.

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Just as we see God’s glory in his creation, so we see his heart in his awesome interventions in the lives of needy men and women.  The people of Israel were locked in a no-hope situation in Egypt, bound by cruel slavery but “God heard the cries of his people” (Ex 6:5), and he hears the cries of the Congolese people  no less. I have two indelible memories of the Flame International trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in April/May this year.  The first being what the Lord taught me. In Goma I saw fear, trauma and devastation in people as never before; and this coupled with the horror of some of the things you hear could break one’s heart…what can we do? In and of ourselves nothing, for no amount of compassion and coming alongside can bring healing to that level of appalling trauma. At this point I was wisely reminded that it’s God’s truth that breaks the hidden chains and sets the captive free. Jesus’ words, “It is finished”, declared to heaven and earth that the work of the cross in the sinner’s heart is powerfully sufficient in every human situation.  So, we do not need to be emotionally overwhelmed by the vastness of the issues we face; but rather to rejoice in Jesus and proclaim his gospel all the more urgently.  What a privilege that in the gospel we are called to share the power of God unto salvation.  Thank you Flame International, that as God confirms all you do with changed lives, I saw this truth at work again and again.  As I prepared for this trip someone told me that, “A Flame trip will sharpen you up.”  Ha, well, all I can say now is, “Too right”! My second memory is of one such changed man, ca 70 years old, almost exploding with joy and tapping his side with the words, “No pain! No pain!”  This was the second day of the conference in Bukavu, and we learnt that this man had been so looking forward to coming, only to find himself very ill in hospital. Despairing, he cried out to God, discharged himself and came anyway! Phil, our team doctor, looked at the drug regime on his hospital papers and was incredulous. “This man should be dead”, was his conclusion – suffering as he had been from pneumonia and severe inflammation of both liver and spleen.  It seems that just as the ten lepers were healed as they went to the priest at Jesus’ bidding (Luke 17:14), so this man was made whole as he travelled to the conference!