(February 29, 2008) By J. Lee Grady – Culled from CHARISMA Magazine
It  was a year of courage, tragedy, religious scandal and political surprises. Here are 12 people who brought Christian faith into the headlines.
At the end of every year I slow down, step back and page through the last year’s issues of Charisma to discern how God has been working in our world. I enjoy identifying the Christians, some famous and some unknown, who were behind the headlines. I think the people below deserve some special recognition:
1. Chinese bookstore owner Shi Weihan:
Police raided his Holy Spirit Bookstore in Beijing on Nov. 28, confiscating his inventory and placing him in secret detention. His case was embarrassing to Chinese authorities, who are trying desperately to put on the best face possible before the 2008 Olympic Games begin. Media attention of Weihan’s arrest reminded the world that Christianity is growing rapidly in China, with some observers estimating that there are 10,000 conversions every day there. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity says there are now 111 million Christians in China, making it the third-largest Christian country.
2. Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, martyrs in Turkey:
These men, two Turkish converts and a German missionary, were tortured and stabbed in April 2007 in the city of Malatya, in southeastern Turkey. Their martyrdom made international headlines because the small Turkish Christian community responded in forgiveness to the four men who attacked them. Geske, whose throat was slit in the attack, left a lasting impression on Turkey’s Muslim community when his widow announced that she did not want revenge. The leader of Turkey’s Bible society told reporters: “We truly believe that the blood of these innocent brothers will bless our country.”
3. Businessman and Philanthropist Mart Green:
After Richard Roberts resigned as president of Oral Roberts University (ORU) in November, Green stepped forward and gave $8 million to the school, with a promise of another $62 million after a 60- to 90-day review of its finances. Green, who has had no previous ties to ORU, is the son of David Green, an Assemblies of God layman and founder of Hobby Lobby stores. The younger Green is president of the Mardel chain of bookstores. His gift will retire ORU’s $50 million debt and hopefully restore its credibility, which was damaged in August when three professors sued the school for wrongful termination and accused Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, of mishandling finances.
4. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:
Some pundits say the former Arkansas governor is just lucky. Others wonder if God might be energizing his campaign, which seemed to come out of nowhere in the late fall. One thing is for sure: This dark horse candidate is swiftly taking the lead in the Republican race, and his outspoken Christian faith and rock-solid family values have not hurt his chances. Three months ago few people took Huckabee seriously. Today he is the candidate to beat, mostly because evangelicals who don’t want Hillary Clinton in the White House finally feel they’ve found someone they can vote for.
5. Author and poet Ruth Bell Graham:
We lost many Christian leaders in 2007 – including Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Rex Humbard, G.E. Patterson and Jack Frost, to name a few. But Graham’s passing in June, at age 87, made us painfully aware that a generation of stalwart generals is fading away. She was the quintessential evangelist’s wife, content to live in the background, yet biographies show that she basically raised the five Graham children. All of them are in ministry today. When her husband once entertained the idea of running for U.S. president, she threatened to leave him if he abandoned his ministry. And when singer June Carter Cash gave her a mink coat, she refused it – saying that an evangelist’s wife could not live lavishly. Graham’s down-to-earth moderation seems refreshing at a time when some evangelists are defending extravagance.
6. Colorado pastor Brady Boyd:
He showed amazing courage by agreeing to fill the pulpit at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. the congregation led until last year by Ted Haggard. After being at his new job for less than four months, Boyd was challenged again when a heavily armed gunman showed up on Dec. 9 and sprayed bullets throughout the church lobby and parking lot, killing two church members and wounding others. Boyd told reporters at a press conference two weeks ago: “This is a very strong church – it has a history of surviving trauma, and it will do well.” The 40-year-old pastor’s obvious integrity and quiet strength are refreshing in light of the many scandals that have plagued churches in our movement in recent months.
7. Nigerian preacher Sunday Adelaja:
Featured on Charisma’s cover in October, Adelaja represents the new face of missions in the 21st century. He’s not from a Western country (he’s a native of Nigeria) and he did not depend on American money or education to build the largest church in Europe. As founder of the 25,000-member The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for all Nations in Kiev, Ukraine, Adelaja wants to plant hundreds of churches in Western Europe and the United States. Not afraid to take his faith to the public square, Adelaja has trained his congregation to influence politics – and the result has been a national swing from communism to pro-Western democracy.
8. Virginia Tech shooting victim Lauren McCain:
She died on April 16, along with 31 classmates and teachers, in the deadliest school shooting in American history. Media reports told of McCain’s MySpace page, on which she talked about Jesus Christ being “the love of my life.” The world quickly learned about a young woman from Hampton, Virg., who was active in her church’s drama ministry and a member of Campus Crusade for Christ. Her contagious faith is still spreading today through a new biography, Lifting Our Eyes: Finding God’s Grace in the Virginia Tech Tragedy.
9. Prayer mobilizer Lou Engle:
This passionate preacher often loses sleep – and regular meals – because he’d rather pray. In July Engle brought more than 75,000 people to Nashville to pray with him at The Call, an all-day event designed to trigger revival in the United States. Engle led 10,000 of the participants on a march through the city to Titans Stadium, where the bigger crowd prayed all day while God TV beamed the event to homes around the world. (Did anyone besides me wonder why so many scandals erupted in the church in the latter part of 2007? My hunch is that desperate cries uttered at The Call released an anointing of holiness that was sent to purify us.)
10. COGIC leader Charles Blake:
After the death of Bishop G.E. Patterson in March, Blake became the leader of the 8-million member Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. He comes to the helm of COGIC at a poignant moment, the church’s 100-year anniversary, and is young enough to bring significant reform to a vibrant African-American Christian movement. Although the 67-year-old Blake plans to focus on transforming the inner cities of the United States, he carries an intense passion to evangelize and revitalize Africa – and could mobilize African-Americans into a huge missionary army.
11. Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow:
At a time when the sports world has been scandalized by rampant drug use, dog-fighting and ethics violations, it was refreshing to see a home-schooled Christian kid with wholesome values win college football’s top prize this year. The son of missionaries, the 20-year-old, 235-pound quarterback for the University of Florida Gators is the first sophomore to ever win the coveted prize. In his acceptance speech on Dec. 8 he thanked Jesus Christ three times and mentioned that his real hero is his older sister, Christy, who is a missionary in Bangladesh.
12. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley:
Some people say the Iowa Republican overstepped his authority when he launched an investigation of six Christian ministries in October. Others maintain that the ministers in question have crossed lines of their own by living lavishly at their donor’s expense. A conservative Baptist who claims he believes in church and state separation, Grassley says he called for the probe to guarantee that nonprofit groups stay within the bounds of the law. He won support on and off Capitol Hill when he made this comment to a reporter: “Jesus came into the city on a simple donkey. To what extent do you need a Rolls-Royce to expand the ministry of Jesus Christ?”
In light of the fact that many Christians are dying for their faith today – in China, Turkey and many other countries – that’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask as we seek to serve the Lord faithfully in 2008.