News

Uganda Rebel Declares War on Church
A rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by cultic spirit-medium Joseph Kony, has declared war on Catholic churches and institutions in Uganda, according to reports from the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Prayer List. Kony reportedly became incensed by the desertion of several of his commanders during recent meetings with church officials.

Since the defections, church missions have been burned, bombed, and desecrated on nine separate occasions. On June 14, the Ugandan Army intercepted a transmission in which Kony told his soldiers that "Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood, and nuns beaten black and blue."

The LRA, which seeks to create a state based on Kony's interpretation of biblical concepts, has been terrorizing northern Uganda for sixteen years. The LRA rebels have forced nearly one million Ugandans into refugee camps. While Christians have frequently been the targets of this group, the Catholic Church is now being specifically targeted for attack. Voice of the Martyrs, Canada via MissionNet

Persecution of Christians, Jews Stepped Up in Iraq
At least two Christian shop owners in Iraq were recently shot dead by Shiite Muslim extremists, and there are unconfirmed reports of another owner and a Christian bystander also being killed, reports the group, Christian Forum in Support of Persecuted Religious Minorities Worldwide. In some areas women are forced to wear the veil and have been spat upon, vilified and refused treatment at hospitals when they failed to do so. Even more vulnerable is Iraq's tiny Jewish population, which is associated with the state of Israel.

There is concern that a battle is being waged for control over the future Iraqi government which churches fear will be dominated by hard-line Muslims. Recently, prominent leaders among Iraq's Shiite Muslim population have called for the creation of an Islamic state governed according to sharia (Islamic law) and that this law be applied to the country's up to one million Christians. In southern Iraq, where the country's Shiite majority is concentrated, Muslims have already begun to take the law into their own hands by burning down more than 100 shops in Basra. In addition, Christians in Basra say looters "raided Christian homes," threatening that next time occupants will be killed because of their faith. Some Christian families have begun to leave Basra for the country's Christian heartland around Mosul in fear of persecution. Assist News Service via Mission Net

Aid Agencies Tackle Worsening Food Crisis in Ethiopia
While much of the world's attention has been focused on Iraq and the Middle East, millions of lives are in jeopardy in Ethiopia. Years of drought, failed crops, and population growth have left fully 12million Ethiopians in danger of starvation-an increase of 1 million since the last hunger assessment in November 2002. The food shortage is the worst the country has faced since the 1984-1985 famine when 1 million Ethiopians died. For many villages, the last harvest was in November 2001. Hundreds of thousands of families are relying on food donated by the international community and distributed by humanitarian organizations. However, donations have fallen short of pledges and food reserves are running out, putting lives in jeopardy.

Ethiopia's government has also decreased ration sizes to feed as many people as possible. Adding to the danger is the lack of clean water, greatly increasing the likelihood of illness, along with the growing threat of HIV/AIDS, affecting 2 million adults and children in Ethiopia. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is one of the agencies responding to this crisis, distributing food, medicine and water to people in need. CRS is the lead agency in the Joint Emergency Operation Plan, a consortium of humanitarian aid organizations providing food to nearly 4 million people. To help with along-term recovery, the organizations are also distributing seeds to farmers and rehabilitating clean water sources. Catholic Relief Services via MissionNet

Southern Baptists Send Love Gift to Iraq
A 2.4-million-pound "gift of love" was being readied in mid-June for shipment to Iraq. Since mid-April, Southern Baptist churches across the country have been filling 70-pound boxes with rice, flour, beans, and other Middle East staples. One box will feed a family of five for approximately one month.

The total estimated freight cost of the project is $325,000,which was to be paid by the Southern Baptists' International Mission Board. Individual donors spent approximately $2 million filling the boxes, creating a mass of food exceeding the weight of more than 590 full-size trucks.

The containers were to leave the ports in Houston and Norfolk for the 45-day journey at sea. Some containers will arrive in Jordan, but it is anticipated that most will come through the southern Iraqi port at UmQsar. Authorities anticipated that the food would be in the hands of needy Iraqi families as soon as early August. Baptist Press

Pakistan Province Adopts Islamic Law
North West Frontier Province has adopted sharia (Islamic law) as the official law of the province. Christians and other minorities now face an uncertain future. On June 2, the Frontier's Provincial Assembly in Peshawar voted unanimously to make sharia the governing code in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). "From today, sharia will be implemented in the province and there will be no place for those who refuse to follow it," said Akram Durrani, chief provincial minister. Under the new legislation where there is a conflict between current law and sharia, the Islamic law will prevail, although details are vague as to exactly how this would be applied in practice. The Hisba Bill, a second measure passed on June4, reportedly provides for the establishment of a provincial sharia judge,' as well as a Department for Vice and Virtue, i.e. a religious police force responsible for enforcing the sharia similar to those in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Although the bill stipulates that sharia will not be applied to non-Muslims, and local Christians report that no cases affecting them have yet arisen, they also believe it is only a matter of time before problems occur. Barnabas Fund via Mission Net

SARS Opening Chinese to Gospel
While many Chinese house church leaders regard SARS as a judgment of God, they are more focused on another "epidemic," reports Asia Harvest's Paul Hattaway. Years ago, he said, the government published a document describing the problem of spreading Christianity as Jidujiao-re, "Christianity Fever." This second epidemic has continued to spread alarmingly (for the government), reaching the poor, rich, villagers and city-dwellers, the educated and illiterate. The more the authorities try to control Christianity by imprisoning those they identify as the main carriers of this fever,' the more the movement spreads. Christian leaders in China say that the SARS virus has made people more open to the gospel than before. According to Hattaway, it can realistically be estimated that tens of thousands of people come to faith in Jesus every day since the outbreak of SARS. Chinese Christians have already published pamphlets about "Jesus the great doctor." Friday Fax

Anglican Church in Baghdad Looted
Hanna Tuma, caretaker of the Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in Baghdad, is back with his family after being abducted by armed looters in the aftermath of the Iraq war. A handful of broken, dust-covered communion wafers is all the looters left behind, said Tuma. The church was built at the end of World War I in memory of British troops fallen in combat. The safe that had contained the communion chalice was opened with a grenade. The stained-glass windows were broken, lights stolen and a leftover Christmas tree uprooted next to a smashed crib. It was April 19 when the thieves descended on the compound, the eve of Easter. Tuma was in the church hall, which doubles as his home, when 20 armed men burst in and threw him to the floor. With hands and feet bound and a revolver stuck to his head, he watched the looting of his modest home. The thieves then attacked the church. It was two days before passersby heard shouting and set him free. Episcopal News Service via MissionNet

Conservatives Rally Against Episcopal Gay Bishop
The New Hampshire election in early June of V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church brought a vow from conservatives to overturn the election. Under church rules, Robinson' selection needed to be certified by delegates and bishops at a General Convention legislative meeting in July. Fellow bishops said the church could not condone homosexuality by accepting an openly gay bishop. "If Gene Robinson's election is confirmed by General Convention, it would bring through the back door a practice that the Episcopal Church has never agreed to bring through the front door," they stated. Robinson's election brings home the rising tensions over homosexuality in the global church. Prelates in fast-growing African and Asian churches accuse the Episcopal Church of ignoring biblical prohibitions against homosexuality. Conservatives say that if Robinson's election does not split the American church, it will certainly isolate it from the 70 million-member Anglican Communion. RNS via Religion Today Summaries

Presbyterians Put Off Facing Homosexual Issue
As the Presbyterian Church (USA) wrapped up its annual General Assembly meeting May 31, about the only thing delegates seemed inclined to do was to put off doing much of anything. The most controversial issues facing the church-whether to allow actively gay clergy and how to handle a controversial report on families-were deferred to a panel that is charged with bridging the church's deep divisions. The task force was appointed in 2001 and will make its final report in 2006.

For many years the church has been battered by its most divisive issue, homosexuality. Church leaders say there must be a "third way" that does not leave winners and losers. One option would be a so-called "local option" policy that allows local churches to set their own standards. Religion Today Summaries

3 Kidnapped Sudanese Boys Die in Captivity
The three young boys who were among 16 persons kidnapped by Sudanese government forces May 22 have been killed in captivity, a ministry called Servant's Heart learned on June 8. The remaining seven women and six young girls are reportedly being held at the Sudanese government's military headquarters near southern Sudan's Adar Yel oilfields. There is concern that if not released, the women will be forcibly converted to Islam or "married" to military officers, and the girls sold as slaves. In addition to the kidnappings during the May 22 attack on 10 non-Muslim villages, 59 people were also killed, including the region's only pastor, Jacob Manyal. His wife was not killed as reported earlier, but remains in captivity. Her two sons, Ruon, 6, and Reath, 4, and a 4-year-old boy named Duoth Chuol Kuon were later murdered. Voice of the Martyrs/Freedom Now News via MissionNet

Churches Urge Zimbabwe to Allow Food Into Country
As famine worsens in the drought-stricken parts of southern Zimbabwe, church leaders are appealing to the government to relax its food import laws. Charles Chiriseri, a spokesperson for the Heads of Christian Denominations, said a number of churches had received offers of maize donations from their overseas partners and international donor agencies but could not import the grain because of existing legal restrictions. Maize is Zimbabwe's staple food crop, and the government-run Grain Marketing Board regulates its importation and distribution. The food situation has improved in parts of the country but remains critical in areas near the border with Zambia. Drought has been blamed in large part for the food shortages. Episcopal News Service via MissionNet

"Insight for Living" to Cut International Broadcasts
An international radio ministry is being forced to cut several programs due to a lack of funds. Because of a $2.1-million shortfall, Insight for Living International announced that it will be ending its programs in Swahili, French, Tamil, Telagu, Bengali and Malayalam-languages that cover parts of Africa and India. Chuck Swindoll's daily 30-minute radio program, "Insight for Living," can be heard in 16 languages on more than 2,100 outlets around the world. Mission Network News

Thousands Respond to Gospel in Russian City
Thirty-three churches in Volgograd worked together in a six-week evangelistic outreach with the theme, "Power to Change," that concluded in late May. Mission Volgograd was perhaps the most visible city campaign in Russian history. The campaign was widely advertised via newspapers, billboards, television, and radio. Participants distributed 50,000 evangelistic books and 50,000 copies of a special magazine to selected friends and neighbors. Daily programming on both radio and television gave examples of how God can change lives. Each Sunday night Mission Volgograd telecast a one-hour live television program-a first for Russia. Secular polling agencies estimated the total audience at 1 million. More than 100,000 one-on-one contacts were also established, and about 10,000 telephone calls were received. Thousands committed their lives to Christ. During one event Finnish evangelist Kalevi Lehtinen spoke to a full house of 800 at the Krasnoarmeysk Community Center, and more than 100 persons received the Lord. Assist News Service via MissionNet

Minnesota Pastor, 2 Newsmen Charged in Laos
Naw-Karl Mua, a Lutheran pastor to the Hmong community in St. Paul, Minn., has been arrested in Laos along with two European journalists. All are accused of murder, a charge that an international reporters' advocacy group calls "grotesque and absurd," reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Reporters Without Borders, an organization based in Paris, said the journalists were detained while doing a story about Hmongrebels who have battled Laos' communist government since 1975. It is unclear where the group is being held. The official Lao News Agency reported Wednesday that Belgian photojournalist Thierry Falise and French cameraman Vincent Reynaud were arrested along with an "American of Hmong origin" for helping "bandits" kill a security official in the remote northeastern village of Khai. All three were reported to be" physically well." Mua entered Laos on May 23 to help the churches and address the issue of human rights abuses in Laos. Fluent in English, French, Hmong, and Laotian, he also served as a translator for the two journalists. Assist News Service via MisionNet

Peace Opens Door to Gospel in Angola
Among the countries most needing aid-which was pledged by G-8 Summit leaders-is Angola, where the fog of a 27-year-long civil war is lifting. Barbosa de Oliveira, Jr., of OC International, a church planter serving in Angola and Mozambique, says the situation is still dangerous because there are more than two landmines for each Angolan. Oliveira says there are "enormous pockets of Christians," and believers are eager to reach their countrymen with the gospel. "They are capable of doing better than any missionary because they know the context, they know the culture, they know their own people," he says. Mission Network News via MissionNet

Congress Continues Military Abortion Ban
Both houses of Congress have turned back attempts to repeal a law that prevents most abortions at United States military facilities. The rejection of amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill means abortions will continue to be banned at U.S. military hospitals and other facilities, except those to save the life of the mother or when pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest.

The Senate defeated an amendment to liberalize the abortion policy in a 51-48 vote. Forty-six Republicans voted against the proposal. Five Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Harry Reid of Nevada. Forty-two Democrats and an independent voted for the amendment. The only GOP members to vote for it were Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Ted Stevens of Alaska. Baptist Press

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