“Charisma played a different role. We looked behind the scenes at the people of faith who helped shape culture, serve the poor or bring the gospel to the masses. Here’s my list of top newsmakers for 2008. Some of these people are power brokers, and some sparked controversy. But most are simple servants who expect no credit and rarely make it into the headlines.
1. The martyrs of India. While the world was preoccupied with the global economic slowdown, Hindu militants went on rampages in Orissa, a state in northern India, in the late summer. They killed as many as 500 Christians and left 50,000 more homeless. Some martyrs were killed with daggers, machetes and swords. Some were raped. Others were doused with gasoline and burned alive—including a handicapped Christian, Rasananda Pradhan, who could not run from his attackers. When one pastor, Samuel Nayak, tried to block militants from entering his church, they slit his throat and destroyed the building.
“Some of these people are power brokers, and some sparked controversy. But most are simple servants who expect no credit and rarely make it into the headlines.”
“The violence in August and September 2008 has been the worst in our 2,000-year history in India,” says John Dayal, a Christian human rights activist who monitors persecution of Christians in India. Most observers say the Orissa conflict erupted because radical Hindus are upset by the growth of Christian churches in the region. Militants are now demanding that Christians stop all conversion efforts.
2. African-American pastors. Christians were deeply divided by the 2008 U.S. presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, but history will record that black pastors played a key role in securing Obama’s victory. Energized by the possibility that a man of color could win the highest office in the land—and overthrow more than two centuries of prejudice—these pastors organized voter registration drives and endorsed Obama from their pulpits. Some exit polls also indicated that the heavy influx of African-American voters, who tend to be conservative on the issue of gay marriage, helped traditional marriage proposals win in California and Florida. Now, because many white Christian conservatives supported McCain, these black leaders will be first in line to speak to Obama about important moral issues. I’m praying that they will.
3. Sarah Palin. Whether you love her or hate her, the perky Alaskan governor with a Pentecostal background gets credit for injecting faith and pro-life values into the 2008 campaign. Pundits and talk show hosts vilified her, but we’ll remember her for staying calm under the relentless media scrutiny while she unapologetically defended the right of the unborn at a time when our nation is ignoring the issue. Whether she’ll run for president in 2012 is a mystery, but her candidacy gave conservative women the hope that the glass ceiling of gender prejudice in American politics will soon fall.
4. Alex and Stephen Kendrick. From their unlikely base in Albany, Ga., these two amateur filmmakers—with help from members of Sherwood Baptist Church—produced their most successful movie to date, Fireproof. Starring Kirk Cameron, it’s the story of a firefighter who salvages his troubled marriage after converting to Christ. The movie opened in September at No. 4 at the box office and remained in the top 10 for three weeks—and it has grossed $30 million so far. (Not bad for the Kendrick brothers’ third movie.) The men started making films in 2002 after reading a Barna survey that said movies are the No. 1 influence on culture.
5. William P. Young. His hugely popular Christian novel, The Shack, sold 1 million copies so far this year—and is projected to sell another 4 million by Christmas. Fans say the fictional tale of a man’s spiritual encounter after the murder of his daughter has helped them reconnect with God. But critics say Young, a former charismatic pastor, has a low view of the church and promotes faulty theology of the Trinity. Last summer Young revealed that he wrote the painful story as a way to find healing from the trauma of being sexually molested as a child.
6. Bob Fu. While millions watched the fireworks and pageantry of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Bob Fu was a voice crying in the wilderness—urging the world community to demand an end to human rights violations in China. Fu, who came to Christ in 1989 while living in his native China, was imprisoned after communist police discovered his secret Bible school in a shuttered factory. Fu and his wife fled to the United States in 1996 and founded the China Aid Association, a ministry that monitors the persecution of Chinese believers. In July, just before President Bush traveled to Beijing for the games, Fu met with Bush and urged him to speak directly to President Hu Jintao about China’s human rights record.
7. Jim Garlow. This California pastor was a driving force behind Proposition 8, the ballot measure that injected a traditional definition of marriage into the state’s constitution. Garlow, leader of Skyline Church in San Diego, mobilized pastors and congregations across the state to pray, fast and engage in door-to-door canvassing. The Protject Marriage campaign, which included a 40-day fast prior to Election Day, is credited by some as the reason Proposition 8 passed. Garlow launched his effort after the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in May. The ballot measure overturned the judges’ ruling, but now gay activists are challenging the ballot measure in court.
8. Irene Gleeson. This Australian grandmother could have stayed in her beach house and enjoyed retirement, but she opted for more adventure. In 1991 she sold her house and all her possessions and moved to a dangerous area of northern Uganda, near the Sudan border, to help orphans who had been affected by war. Despite threats from local militants, she started a school under a mango tree with 20 kids. Today, Childcare Kitgum Servants provides education, housing and food for 8,000 children, and 400 mostly African staff members run the ministry. Gleeson’s inspiring story was captured on film this year in a remarkable documentary, Cinderella Children.
9. Doug Stringer. A champion of compassion ministry, Stringer’s Houston-based Somebody Cares organization funneled $30 million in food and supplies to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This year, after Hurricane Ike blew out the windows of his own office, he and his army of volunteers hopped in their trucks and took aid to the needy of Galveston, where thousands were stranded. While most Americans quickly turned their attention to the presidential campaign, forgetting the suffering in Texas and Louisiana, Stringer kept raising money and helping desperate families. A charismatic who started his ministry working with gangs, Stringer has pioneered a unique, church-based approach to relief and operates 22 Somebody Cares chapters in the country.
10. Joel Stockstill. Son of charismatic pastor Larry Stockstill, 29-year-old Joel has a dream of reaching America’s teenagers for Christ. Although he faced unbelievable hardships this year (his own health crisis plus the death of his wife, Amy, from cancer), Stockstill has been a model of spiritual passion. As pastor of the 220 youth ministry of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., he has grown it from 70 students to more than 7,000 in five years. Currently about 100 students come to Christ every week through the cell-based ministry—which has targeted every school in the Baton Rouge area. His strategy ought to be replicated in every city in our nation.
11. David Tyree and Tim Tebow. These two gifted athletes unapologetically stood for Jesus on the playing field in 2008. David Tyree, wide receiver for the New York Giants, caught the 32-yard pass that helped his team win a surprise victory against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. He later told reporters that the amazing catch—which required him to jump high and trap the ball on the back of his helmet—was the result of a pre-game prayer. (In the fall he released a book about his Christian testimony called More Than Just the Catch.) Tim Tebow, quarterback for the University of Florida Gators, consistently honored Christ during a winning season—and now is in the running to win the Heisman Trophy for a second time. The son of evangelical missionaries, he boldly tells reporters on the sidelines: “My biggest passion in life isn’t football. It’s telling as many people as I can about my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
12. Todd Bentley. The flamboyant Canadian evangelist is credited with sparking a healing revival that spread to Europe during the summer of 2008. From a church in Lakeland, Fla., Bentley’s nightly services ran from April through July and were broadcast on GOD TV and other channels. Though he was criticized for his theology and stage antics, as many as 10,000 people a night came to the services, and many said they experienced healing or spiritual renewal. The revival ended abruptly when Bentley’s ministry board announced that he was leaving his wife. In a year of political and economic tumult, the Lakeland debacle shook the American charismatic movement to its core, leaving us to sort through the rubble and discover ways to avoid making the same mistakes again.
You can add your own 2008 newsmakers to our list by visiting the Fire in My Bones forum. Click here.