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Craig Greenfield: Family in the slums and urban fringes

Written By Janice Tai, Singapore

Seven-year-old Jaydan and his sister Micah, 5, bounded down the streets of Downtown Eastside in inner-city Vancouver.

The people hanging around those roads saw them and shouted to each other: “Kids on the block!”

Those who were using drugs started keeping their needles. Those who were fighting and swearing immediately quietened down.

But Jaydan’s eyes were sharp. He saw a needle packet discarded at the foot of a fence and pointed it out to his sister, who shrunk back in mock horror.

Later, the kids would tell the adults that they knew what the needles were used for—“to put poison into them”—and why people turned to them—“it makes them think about other things and nothing about the bad day.”

Jaydan and Micah are children of Craig Greenfield and his Cambodian-Chinese wife Nay, both 43. The parents were not afraid of bringing up their young children in the midst of drug addicts or former convicts. In return, the community was transformed by the presence of the children and altered their addictive behavior.

 

Sharing lives in Canada

Back in 2005, the family had moved into one of the poorest areas in Canada, where they began a radical social experiment by opening up their home to people struggling with homelessness, prostitution, and drug addiction.

Before moving to Canada, Craig had grown up in affluence in New Zealand. There, he had met his wife Nay, a refugee from the Khmer Rouge regime. After marrying, both of them had answered God’s call to serve and live alongside orphans in slums in Cambodia for seven years. They had made their home in two different slums there. Jaydan was conceived in one and raised in another, and Micah was also born in the second slum. Craig and Nay then felt led to apply what they had learned in the Asian slums to an urban area in an affluent, Western country.

While it seemed to be the exact opposite of where they had previously served, they saw that inner-city Vancouver had its share of physical and emotional poverty. There was rampant drug addiction, it had the highest Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection rate in the Western world, and four in five people lived alone.

“There are plenty of charities and soup kitchens there and people can get fed every half an hour. But such a charity model fosters a one-way relationship and a taking mentality,” says Craig. “We believe that people’s hurt and brokenness occurs in the context of relationships and often their families, and so healing and transformation will also come in the context of relationships—healthy ones.”

So, instead of handing out donuts in a charity line, he and his wife went to line up with everyone else to get the free donuts. As they got to know people, they invited them back to their home for meals or for a temporary roof over their heads. This was the basis of their Christian community, called Servants Vancouver which they founded.

The Greenfields now have two adjourning houses and two apartments. At any one time, they can house up to three families, four singles, and five children. “When people laugh together, do the dishes together, work together, play together, share lives together, we believe that there is something transformative about that,” says Craig.

In such a community, the children bring joy and companionship to the singles or drug addicts who have had their own children taken away from them. The adults are less inclined to indulge in addictive behaviors in front of the children, and become mentors to the young charges. “We want to practise radical hospitality, welcoming those who are not normally welcomed in this society, into our lives, into our homes, into our families,” says Craig.

One of the lives that was impacted by such a community was John, a former gang member who had been in and out of prison. He found a place where he was safe and able to stay clean from drugs, as well as a church family.

When asked if he was ever worried about his children being in such unusual company, Craig replies: “I would be more fearful bringing my children up in the midst of affluence and the kind of consumer society where they don’t get to mix with people of different socio-economic backgrounds and their only exposure to drugs is seeing Britney Spears and Paris Hilton on TV, glamorizing the drug using lifestyle.”

“My kids walk down the street and they see a guy lying there in the gutter like a down-and-out person, and they have no illusions on what drugs do to a person,” he adds.

The Greenfields continued to reach out to the drug addicts in the community for six years, giving them a place to detox and get back on their feet. Many of them needed a refuge while waiting to get into drug treatment centers, which had long waiting lists.

In 2012, a serious brush with cancer led Craig to think about what he wanted to spend his final years doing. Knowing that each of the men and women struggling with addiction, homelessness, or prostitution had started out life as a child longing for someone to love them, he decided to work with children, to try to address the problem at the roots.

So, in 2013, the family moved back to Cambodia, as they felt God’s leading to re-engage directly with the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children in the developing world.

 

(From left) Nay, Micah, Jaydan and Craig.

 

Convicted in Cambodia

It was a return to the place where Craig had first discovered the value of setting up a Christian community. His calling to the urban poor in Cambodia grew from a short-term mission trip in Phnom Penh which he did during a six-month break from university in New Zealand. Craig, who majored in commerce, had been raised in a Christian family who freely opened their doors to the vulnerable in society.

During the mission trip, young Craig befriended people who were dirt poor and homeless and were not interested in an abstract theology that seemed to be disengaged from their physical needs. “I am very poor. What can Jesus do for me?” one of them asked Craig.

Craig, then 22 years old, also remembered coming across a beggar outside a genocide museum. The beggar leaned on a wooden crutch and thrust an upturned baseball cap in his direction. A faded and filthy red T-shirt hung from his body, and on the front of the T-shirt were four huge, peeling block letters: “W.W.J.D.”

Those letters haunted the young man. “When I was growing up, those letters were etched into fluorescent green rubber wristbands sold in Christian bookstores or printed on the front covers of upbeat Teen Bibles. But I had never seen those letters on the tattered T-shirt of a beggar,” he says.

Shortly after graduation, Craig met Nay at a church gathering and married her. Nay knew that one day she would go back to her home country and help her people. Similarly, Craig remembered the first stirrings to fulfill the Great Commission in Cambodia that God had placed in his heart during the mission trip. After some deliberation, he quit his job as a corporate executive in a successful technology start-up, and both of them moved into an impoverished Cambodian slum community called Victory Creek in 2002. Their aim was to serve Jesus by serving those in the “distressing disguise of the poor”.

A two-room shack, barely tall enough to stand upright in, with only one window and one door to let light in, was their castle. Craig and May lived alongside the poor, listened to their concerns, and tried to meet their needs.

In their time there, they realized that many children were put in orphanages because their parents had either died from Aids or did not have the resources to raise their children. In his work with international humanitarian workers and consultants there, Craig learned that orphanage care could actually be harmful for the children. For instance, research has shown that institutional care has a negative effect on the psycho-social development of children. It also fosters a sense of disconnectedness, as the community is not involved in the care of the orphans.

 

Craig and Nay in Cambodia

 

Equipping locals in Cambodia

So Craig developed a ministry to help Cambodian communities care for their own orphans, and it eventually reached out to hundreds of vulnerable children and sparked a mentoring movement called Alongsiders International.

The basic concept of Alongsiders is getting extended family members or local volunteers to foster or mentor orphans in their midst.

“Cambodians have a proverb, ‘It takes a spider to repair its own web’. Our growing conviction as outsiders is to equip the locals or insiders to become alongsiders in journeying through life with the vulnerable in their society,” says Craig. He has seen orphans who had benefited from the love and support of others become “wounded healers” and extend the same love and support to others.

Today, the Alongsiders movement has spread into many provinces of Cambodia, as well as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, and beyond.

Craig and his family are still in Cambodia leading Alongsiders international, which now has thousands of young Christians making disciples in 15 countries. He says: “Mother Teresa once said that loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is truly the most terrible poverty. Our mission is to train and guide young Christians in poor nations to walk alongside those who walk alone.”

 

Check out Craig’s latest book “The Alongsiders Story” or join the movement at www.alongsiders.org

Ivan David Ng: Displaying Love and Art Amid Hostility

It was his first time on a plane. Flying 15,000 kilometers from his home in Singapore to the mid-Atlantic region in the United States, where he would spend the next four years, Ivan David Ng was excited about his newfound freedom and eager to embrace new experiences. But the young artist would soon find out that being a Christian in a foreign land—what more, in a fine arts university—would be one of the most challenging experiences in his life.

Today, Ivan is back in Singapore, as an up-and-coming artist who has exhibited his works both in the US and Singapore. He recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he was the commencement speaker for his cohort.

Throughout the two-hour long interview with YMI, the 26-year-old exudes joy and confidence when sharing about his art and faith. But things were not always this way, he tells us. In his freshman year, he was confronted with culture shock, personal challenges, and opposition to his faith.

In his first week of school, a faculty member openly ridiculed him for being a Christian. His philosophy professor had asked everyone to introduce themselves and to share what helped them make sense of the world. When it came to Ivan’s turn, he explained that it was his faith, having become a Christian at the age of 17. His professor promptly responded that she thought religion was “very insensitive, illogical and intolerant”.

This hostile reaction was a rude awakening. But Ivan soon found it becoming a weekly occurrence. Any mention of his faith, Jesus, and going to church on Sundays was met with patronizing smiles, awkward silences, and the occasional eye roll. “I felt like I was thrown into a furnace, it was extremely difficult for me,” he adds.

Throughout his time in university, his close friends teased him frequently about his faith and the choices he made for his belief—especially when it came to his sexual conduct. One of the more memorable comments he received was, “Did you put on a chastity belt and throw the key away?”

He says, “When I first got there, I felt like Elijah . . . am I the only Christian here?” When Ivan tried to seek out other Christians in the college, he stumbled upon a small Christian fellowship on campus. They started to meet regularly.

“It was a time of ministering to one another, loving other people together, and supporting one another in prayer,” he adds. “Once there was strength in numbers, I didn’t feel alone anymore and we started serving the people in campus together. We became Jesus’ covert hands and feet in a place where people didn’t want anything to do with Him. The support of these Christian friends was how I stayed Christian.”

 

Expressing love in a hostile environment

The hostile secular environment and several failed attempts to reach out to friends using traditional methods, however, made him rethink his approach to evangelism. “It’s not so much about standing up for what you believe, but more of just loving people that God has placed around you,” he says. “If I can love them so much and want their salvation so much, what more God? I’ve learned to be prepared for long-term gospel work and enjoy them genuinely as friends—that’s evangelism in that context,” he explains.

The key, he says, was to be emotionally invested in his non-Christian friends and learn to enjoy their friendship and company. He says, “Often, as Christians seeking to reach our friends, we feel the responsibility to give to our friends emotionally, spiritually and even materially. But how often do we allow these non-Christian friends to give to us? In a real friendship, this goes both ways. Otherwise, these friends we are trying to reach out to become ‘projects’—and they feel it.”

“These friends supported me when family members passed away while I was far away from home . . . if they sometimes want to tease me for my faith, so be it! I know they love me,” Ivan says with wide grin. For him, the right to speak about the truth found in Jesus had to be earned through a long, faithful friendship, where love and mutual enjoyment has been consistently demonstrated.

Over time, some of these relationships bore fruit. When a friend who often laughed at Ivan for his faith faced a major personal problem in his life, he turned to Ivan and asked for prayer and counsel. The incident encouraged Ivan immensely.

 

Experiencing God through Art

Besides the shift in his perspective on evangelism, Ivan experienced another change. Though he was a painting major, Ivan discovered that he was more inclined towards material-based and tactile processes. Slowly, his work took on more three-dimensional forms. “I liked to do things with my hands. Sculpting gave me more satisfaction as compared to painting,” he shares.

To Ivan, his art and his faith are intertwined. He says, “My art is essentially about my faith . . . If I were to talk about themes surrounding my art, it stems from a search and longing for God.” He draws inspiration from landscapes, and enjoys working with natural materials such as stone, handmade paper and clay. Referring to them as “toys that God leaves behind for me to discover”, he says, “In putting these materials through processes that transform them, I feel that it is God leading me on a journey of discovery and wonder.”

His passion and joy in creating his art is evident as he excitedly explains and shows off pictures of his art pieces, one of which is a sculpture titled Are You In Love. Pointing to the grey stone, he says, “I cut open a quartzite stone I picked up from a construction site, only to discover that the stone was shiny and glittery on the inside, although its surface was dull.”

Titled : Are You In Love

To Ivan, using the materials that God created and designed in his art is a form of worship. “As I create, I am merely reflecting my Creator. As I work with these beautiful materials that He has in the first place created, I acknowledge God as Creator and I recognize myself as collaborating with Him,” he says.

That said, he urges young Christian artists not to feel the pressure to always make their art a tool for presenting the Gospel. “I don’t intentionally weave the cross into my work, although the work by nature bears witness to God in creation. Sometimes when artists use art as a direct, literal Gospel tool, it ends up being cheesy because people already know where it leads. They don’t feel invited into a deeper conversation; instead, some may feel that the work is lecturing them. It closes up conversations instead of opening them up,” he explains.

He hopes young Christian artists can learn to enjoy making their art and “find God’s fingerprints in their making of art”. “God is always involved—it’s whether you’re conscious of it or not,” he says.

For Ivan himself, art is a springboard for relationships and for long-term Gospel work. He says, “Enjoy the people your pursuit of art takes you to and see those relationships as Gospel opportunities. Perhaps that’s the way we can be witnesses for Jesus as artists.”

 

Amy Peterson: The Banished Missionary

Ministering in a country where Christians are a minority can sound daunting even for an experienced missionary. However, for Amy Peterson—a 22-year-old fresh graduate at the time—the thought itself was exciting. “Going to a place unreached with the Gospel was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. The young hopeful did not expect that one day, she would be banished from the country she ministered in, unable to return.

Now 35, Amy is a writer, assistant director of honors programming at Taylor University in Indiana, USA, and mother of two children. She documented her experiences as a missionary in her first book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, which was published in February. “As I reflected on my experiences, I wanted to make sure that I had learned all God wanted me to learn from them,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I was listening to my life.”

Amy, who was raised in a Christian family, was drawn to the life of a missionary after reading biographies of famous missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward as a child. “I wanted to serve God in the greatest way possible, and so I felt drawn to overseas missions,” she tells YMI in an e-mail interview.

She took the unconventional route after graduating from University to explore what being a cross-cultural missionary was like. Although Amy’s parents were nervous about her 10-month stint, they were supportive. Amy, on the other hand, “had no doubts” about her decision.

To prepare for her trip—which was organized by a Christian organization she was attached to—Amy attended two classes on intercultural studies from Wheaton College in Illinois and received another three weeks of specialized training from the organization.

Amy Peterson (3)The training was especially crucial for Amy as she was not allowed to directly evangelize in the country. Due to the Southeast Asian country’s political situation and cultural dynamics, she was only able to enter the country as an English teacher. Amy says: “I was simply living my life as a Christian in a foreign country.”

Amy’s efforts paid off when one of her students, *Veronica, started to visit her apartment with questions about Christianity. “I think she guessed I might be a Christian because I was American,” Amy says. The 19-year-old had become interested in Christianity because one of her favorite American pop stars was a Christian.

Veronica’s quest for more answers kept her visiting Amy. In the end, they started reading the Bible together and studying the book of Luke every Sunday night. They also watched Jesus, a 1979 film adapted from the Gospel of Luke, together with two of Veronica’s friends. Veronica later borrowed it over the Lunar New Year break so that she could watch it again with her family members.

After several months of Bible study with Amy, Veronica started to understand how Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for sinners. She subsequently prayed to receive Christ.

Amy recalls receiving a letter from Veronica, in which she wrote: “The Bible let me understand that the Father comes to us not because we are good enough, but because we are forgiven.” Reading the letter, Amy was astounded that Veronica could already recognize this truth, which Amy took years to grasp.

Over time, Amy witnessed how Veronica would eagerly share about her newfound faith with those around her, including her family members, classmates, and even friends studying at different colleges around the country. She even finished reading the whole of the New Testament by herself and did Bible study with her friends. By the end of the school year, four other friends of Veronica had come to know the Lord.

At one particular dinner with Amy’s Christian friend and Veronica, Amy recalls how Veronica boldly declared: “If I have to choose between my country and God, I choose God.” She also went on to talk about the power of the Word of God fearlessly, saying: “I have a more powerful weapon than my government does. I’m not afraid.”

Unfortunately, after Amy returned to the United States for her summer break, the local police found the students having Bible study. They were repeatedly interrogated and threatened by the authorities, had their Bibles confiscated, and forbidden to talk about Jesus.

Cracking under pressure, one of the students revealed that they had received their Bibles from Amy. The police ordered the university to sack Amy. She was also not allowed to enter the country again. “I had no idea that I would never come back,” she says. “The experience shook my faith.” Although Amy kept in touch with Veronica for three years after she left, she soon realized that the police were still monitoring and checking on Veronica. Hence, for Veronica’s safety, Amy decided to stop contacting her. (Because Amy’s students are still being monitored by the police, Amy can’t reveal which country she went to for their safety.)

The series of events made Amy feel guilty. “There were so many things I didn’t know, so many things I took for granted, so many ways I wasn’t cautious,” she wrote in her book. Some of the things Amy wished she had not done include allowing Veronica to keep the Jesus film over the mid-semester break, conducting a Bible study session with her students in public, and not warning Veronica to be careful.

It took a year of struggling with the guilt before she was finally able to forgive herself. “I made mistakes. But obsessing over my mistakes elevates them as more powerful than the sovereignty of God.” When asked if she regrets going to there, she answers with a firm “Never”.

To the current writer and teacher in Indiana, her mission with God has not ended. Her role as a mother and a teacher gives her the opportunity to share about God with her children and help her students navigate their relationships and life circumstances. Amy says, “I think all of us are called to be on mission with God, putting love where love is not. I seek to use my words in ways that help make the deep, deep love of God clear to those around me. I believe that we can do small things with great love.”

Ultimately, Amy hopes to encourage fellow Christians to keep serving God. “I believe firmly that God is working in exciting and meaningful ways through people in all vocations, not just through missionaries,” she says. “God is at work everywhere, if we have eyes to see it . . . and God calls all of us to be on mission, wherever we are.”

Amy Peterson

Read more about Amy’s story in Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. Published in February this year by Discovery House, it is available at www.dhp.org for $13.99.

*Not her real name

George Moss: Rapping and Dressing to Be a Blessing

Photos by Blake Wisz

Written By Tam, Singapore

George Moss knows how it feels to sit through a church service you have no interest in. And, ironically, that was exactly what started his journey into full-time ministry. Today, George is a popular Christian gospel rapper in Michigan, United States.

The youngest of three children, George grew up in what is known as the “Bible belt” of the Midwest in Grand Rapids. As a kid, he didn’t like going to church, but not attending was never an option in his family. To escape sitting in the “big service” with his grandmother every Sunday, then 15-year-old George went for the only alternative available—joining a six-member youth ministry rap group.

“I thought rapping in church was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of,” says the 34-year-old. “But my older sister constantly encouraged me to join them. So for lack of a better choice, I began to meet with this group of guys.”

His initial misgivings and dislike eventually gave way to a discovery that he actually had musical talent. “It was a combination of being forced to be there, and then realizing that I did actually have a little bit of talent to do it,” he says. “And once I started getting positive responses from the audiences, it only fueled the desire to continue.”

Having to write and rap about the gospel also led George to learn more about God and nurtured his relationship with Him. “Doing music in that group was a turning point for me. It was when my faith became my own,” he admits.

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As George grew both musically and spiritually, he and two friends began giving shows and performing at other churches. One night, after a performance at a church, the youth pastor handed George an envelope. In it was a nice thank-you card and, to his surprise, a check for US$75. It was the first time he got paid doing what he loved.

“I was only 16 years’ old at the time, so $75 was a lot of money to me. Growing up with a single mother trying to raise three kids, money was something that we didn’t have much of,” he says. “So when I got paid for the first time to do something that I gladly had been doing for free, I knew that was what I wanted to do as a career.” And like they say, the rest is history.

Rapping for Christ

Releasing multiple tracks, the gospel rapper first hit the American Christian music scene in 2002 with fellow Grand Rapids artist Michael Fugitt. The hip-hop duo UN1ON’s debut EP was followed by a nationwide tour. But after weeks of touring, George realized that he needed to get serious about his career and began work at a local Christian radio station.

After building a strong local following through his radio show, his first solo effort came six years later with 2008’s All or Nothing, featuring the singles “Whoa” and “Transparent”. In 2012, the local radio celebrity, who has toured with some of Christian music’s biggest names, like rapper KJ-52, released another album, It’s Time.

Earlier this year, George, whose music features a blend of electro-pop and rap, released a new single, “Take On The World”. His growing following on social media is testament to how God is using his music to reach people, with over 30,000 likes on his Facebook page and nearly 13,000 followers on Twitter.

Tackling issues like temptation, faith, and godly anger in his songs, George’s lyrics are grounded in Christian principles. And while the songs are not overtly Christian, they make references to biblical parables and well-known scripture verses.

In his 2015 single, “Set It Off”, he took a bold step to challenge the status quo, with lyrics that spoke about Christian hypocrisy, breaking traditions, and telling hard truths. George says that the single was born out of a realization that he knew more about “church” than he did about Jesus.

It was also a response to a “fan” culture that he felt had developed in American Christian culture, where he observed fellow Christians chasing after the teachings of pastors, authors, and even Christian artists more than they followed Jesus.

“If we are truly trying to love people, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. When you love someone, you are going to tell them the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts,” says George, who is married with a young son.

Having spent close to 15 years in the music industry, George describes his journey as a roller coaster ride as he faces new challenges and experiences every day. There have been good days when he’s performed to sold-out tours with 20,000-strong crowds, and other days when he’s performed for just two people at a youth gathering.

“I’ve had weeks when I thought I was going to change the entire world, and there are days that I’ve felt like giving up . . . I’ve experienced almost everything imaginable, but at the end of the day, money, fame, success, or even failure and betrayal can’t be the driving force for me,” he says.

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Dressing for Christ

Passionate about reaching out on all platforms, the rapper artist is also the founder of OXEN Apparel. The clothing line was birthed out of the desire to represent Christ wholly—not just in his music or life, but in the brands that he wears—after realizing that fans took notice of the clothing he wore regularly.

“At the time, I shopped at the mall and just bought the clothing that I thought was cool. When I saw that my fans would actually go out and buy those same brands because I was wearing it, it made me pay more attention to the brands themselves,” he says.

One day, he noticed that a brand he regularly supported had a new line of T-shirts featuring scantily-clad women, and it struck him that by buying and wearing the particular brand, he was supporting the company and its values. “In a way, I was telling my fans that I agree with the way that this brand portrayed women. It was at that moment I knew I needed to be more conscious of what I was wearing.”

When he could not find a brand that stood out or represented what he truly believed in, George decided to create his own. “I landed on the name OXEN. It’s based on Matthew 11:29 where Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me’. I wanted to be branded as someone who carries the ‘yoke’ of Christ.”

To carry this “yoke” and share his faith with others, George has travelled across the country to speak at schools, churches, and festivals, reaching thousands of teens and young adults.

While making music, clothing, and fans are all elements of George’s ministry, he knows that all the successes and motivations are centered on one thing—making disciples for Christ. He says: “For years I thought of myself as an evangelist, and I relied on other people to do the discipleship. But I realized that it is the responsibility for all believers to make disciples.”

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He expanded his OXEN brand and began developing the OXEN Team Ministries, due to start later this year. It will include online training programmes, with videos and Bible study curriculum to educate and equip believers in their discipleship.

“I realized that OXEN don’t start out carrying a yoke. Before they can carry the yoke, they must be trained. They need to spend time with the master, learning his commands and understanding the master’s will. Only when they are trained can they actually go out into the harvest field and do the work of their master.”

Having been through the ups and downs of the music industry and life, George wants to encourage people who are interested in making Christian music to keep their passion of being a Christian above their passion for music. “It’s so easy to get caught up in making music about Jesus that it comes at the expense of actually following Jesus.”

In response to the YMI question: Why do you do what you do? George says: “I do what I do because I want to inspire people everywhere to live a lifestyle of love, understanding, and obedience to God’s word.”

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Write to us at contribute@ymi.today if you know of someone who has made a radical choice because of his or her faith. #FORTHISREASON