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Man Claims to Be  Incarnation of Jesus

A man named José Luis de Jess Miranda is claiming to be the living incarnation of "Jesus Christ Man." Numerous Hispanics in more than 300 centers across Central and South America, Cuba, and the U.S. believe him and are lavishing him with gifts. "I don't have one Rolex," de Jess Miranda said, "I have three because they want to give them to me." De Jess Miranda is actually a 60-year-old former heroin addict, a convict and a divorced father of four who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in southern Florida with his second wife. His organization, Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace), preaches "freedom to indulge" because in his words, "The devil was destroyed 2,000 years ago." His followers organize aggressive demonstrations where they destroy traditional religious books and symbols and disrupt other religious gatherings. Critics of de Jess Miranda such as Harvard-trained theologian Daniel Alvarez believe the ministry to be a destructive cult. "What disturbs me is that he fits into the typical mold of a cult leader-total, complete submission to his authority," he says. De Jess Miranda is unfazed by the criticism, saying, "I will be president of the biggest government that this earth has experienced."

WorldWide Religious News/Assist News Service via MissionNet

Flood Affects Millions

Torrential rains covering much of 26 districts in India's Orissa State caused September flooding which affected more than 3 million people. According to a report from one indigenous ministry, 37 million acres of land were damaged, and 100,000 houses destroyed. Overflowing rivers have forced approximately 200,000 people from their homes and caused severe damage to roads. Fatalities were reported, but the number was not known immediately.

Relief efforts were hindered initially by the rising water and stormy conditions. Hundreds of villages, many that are completely inaccessible to governmental relief agencies, were still awaiting aid, as of this report (Sept. 22). 

Missions Insider

20-Somethings Tend to Disengage From Active Religion

A new study from the Barna Group indicates that most "20-somethings" disengage from active Christian faith during their young adult years, and often beyond, despite strong levels of spiritual activity during the teen years. The study shows that six out of 10 young people in their 20s who were involved in a church in their teens have failed to transition into active spirituality during their early adult years. Barna's numbers indicate that teens often embrace spiritual things, whether Christianity or alternatives. However, the research shows that once they reach adulthood, 20-somethings have significantly lower levels of church attendance, time spent alone studying and reading the Bible, volunteering to churches, giving to churches, attending Sunday school or small-group Bible studies, and using Christian media (including television, radio and magazines). Only one-fifth of this age group has maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences, making them one of the most resistant age groups to Christianity.

The Barna Group via MissionNet

Jordanians to Help Southern Lebanon

As reports emerge from south Lebanon about the "horrifying" conditions after the ceasefire agreement, the Jordanian relief agency Manara Ministries has stepped in with "a swift plan to meet needs in different villages and towns across Lebanon." An e-mail from Manara reiterates reports of destruction, especially Christian homes and villages, that acted as places of refuge during the war and whose resources are exhausted from thousands of additional inhabitants and neighboring villagers. Manara said the worst destruction isn't physical, but rather the loss of hope for a peaceful and stable Lebanon. Many young professionals are seeking to relocate to the West. Because of the huge needs, Manara is focusing primarily on four areas -helping Christian schools, providing medical funds and supplies, purchasing Bibles and Christian literature, and assisting families with food and other physical items. "We need to keep moving fast," the e-mail concluded, "because no one knows how long we have before the war starts again or when the opportunity is lost."

 Assist News Service via MissionNet

Records Show Eritrea Jails 1,918 for Belief Without Being Tried

New statistics recently smuggled out of the East African nation of Eritrea indicate that at least 1,918 Eritrean citizens are in prison, some being subjected to torture and or forced labor, because of their religious beliefs. Christians make up 95% of these religious prisoners. The Wongel Mermera investigation center in Asmara is holding a total of 35 pastors, priests, and church elders, with the remaining 1,758 evangelical Protestants and Orthodox believers imprisoned in 14 other towns and cities. Compiled reports indicate  as many as one quarter of those jailed have been held for two years or more. None of the religious prisoners has gone before a court to be charged or tried. Records from the London-based Release Eritrea organization show that 29 of these prisoners were arrested in August in the cities of Asmara, Keren, and Massawa. Reports are circulating in Asmara that the government plans to shut down the Anglican Elementary School. Despite ongoing arrests and surveillance, local evangelicals said they were continuing to meet for worship, prayer and Bible studies in their homes.

Compass Direct via MissionNet

Prison Fellowship Appeals Shut-Down Of Prison Ministry

Prison Fellowship has appealed a judge's ruling that the ministry's InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) in Iowa violates "Constitutionally-mandated" separation of church and state. "The judge ordered the program shut down and, in his shocking and unprecedented ruling, he ordered that Prison Fellowship repay Iowa the money the state spent on IFI's services totaling $1.7 million," noted Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

The appeal was filed Sept. 13, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments early next year.

Earley said the implications of this case are enormous: "Not just for faith-based organizations like Prison Fellowship and IFI, but also for the two million prisoners in America, and even for public safety. In a time when states are clamoring for help in fighting crime and reducing recidivism, it is the height of folly to shut down a proven, effective rehabilitation program like IFI."

From a news release.

Poll: Americans Not At Ease With Mix of Religion, Politics

The latest poll, conducted July 6-19 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, finds that many Americans are uncomfortable with the relationship between religion and politics. The poll of 2,003 adults showed that both liberals and conservatives are in trouble. A full 69% say liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government while 49% expressed concern about attempts by Christian conservatives to impose their religious values. The Democratic Party faces a serious "God problem," with only 26% saying the party is religion-friendly. While the proportion saying the Republicans are friendly to religion is much higher at 47%, this number fell from 55% in the past year, with a sharp 14-point drop among white evangelicals. Other statistics show that overall 63% believe that the American people, not the Bible, should influence U.S. law. This contrasts with 60% of white evangelicals who hold the opposite view.

Religion News Service via MissionNet

Palau, Chinese Atheist Co-Author Book

At a packed press conference in Beijing, evangelist Luis Palau and Chinese official Zhao Qizheng released a highly anticipated co-authored book titled Riverside Talks: A Friendly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian. At an unprecedented high-profile book signing by an international religious leader, Palau was twice allowed to explain what it meant to be a true follower of Christ. The book was Zhao's suggestion to Palau two years ago in an effort to build mutual understanding between two cultures. It consists of transcribed conversations between the two leaders during three separate meetings. The book discusses philosophy, history, religion, the Bible, creation, atheism, Confucianism, politics, ethics, Chinese and Western cultures, and the relevance of Jesus Christ to society. Zhao, China's vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and former Minister of Information, said, "Dr. Palau and I are both rather pure species of our two different cultures. Because both of us were very straightforward during our discussions, we were able to breach the barriers posed by different ideologies and exchange views on a wide range of topics. I was deeply touched when Dr. Palau told me he loved China."

Christian Newswire via MissionNet

Baptists Are Among Fattest Americans

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a column Aug. 25 deriding Baptists-and especially Southern Baptists-for being guilty of gluttony as they avoid other sins such as drinking and smoking.

"America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem," Ken Ferraro, a Purdue sociology professor said, according to a column by Cathleen Falsani. About 27 percent of Baptists, including Southern Baptists, North American Baptists and fundamentalist Baptists are obese, Ferraro found, making them the most overweight group of religious adherents in America.

"Baptists may find food one of the few available sources of earthly pleasures," Ferraro said, which has led to overeating becoming the "accepted vice." By contrast, about 1 percent of the Jewish population and less than 1 percent of other non-Christians including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are obese. Daniel Sack, a historian and author in Chicago, told Falsani the reason may be that American Christians don't have any dietary behavior codes.

Baptist Press

Christians in Iraq Fall Prey to Violence

With the news media often focusing on the sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, the small minority Christian community in Iraq is often ignored by news sources. Brian Padden reported on the Voice of America Website that many Christians are fleeing to the relative safety of the northern Kurdish regions of Iraq. The question remains if Christians are specific targets or only random victims of widespread violence. Pastor Iariq Choucha spoke of a typical suicide bomber who targets a popular market. "Who is in the market?" he asked. "There are Kurds, Christians, Arabs. There are Sunnis and Shias. The terrorist, he has no allegiance." However, others believe there are deliberate strategies in place to intimidate minority groups such as Christians. One doctor from Mosul who wished to remain anonymous said, "The Christians are targeted more there. Our number in the city is small. So when they target a few of us it will be for the population very big."

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Panamanian Missionaries Shun Drunken Ceremony

A three-man team of native missionaries from the Kuna ethnic group in eastern Panama are taking a stand for their faith by breaking with a local tradition. New Tribes Mission (NTM) reported that the three men, Edelfonso, Videncio and Luis, will soon appeal to village leaders to allow them to forego the drunken rites of passage that take place in the village. Village chiefs, who once opposed the presence of Kuna Bible teachers, just recently invited the Kuna church to send missionaries to live with the group to teach literacy. However, once they arrived both village chiefs insisted on a monthly $25 tax and that the trio participate in drunken ceremonies. It's a delicate time in the new ministry as believers who previously took a stand against the drunken, orgiastic activity have been forced to pay hefty fines. NTM is urging prayer for wisdom for the men and for open doors to share the gospel.

Mission Network News

More States Approve Unborn Victims Laws

More states approved unborn victims laws in 2006 protecting pregnant women and their children before birth. Combined with a federal law that offers further protection, most states now recognize death or injury to an unborn child at least some of the time during a pregnancy. The case of Laci Peterson drew national attention to the growing phenomenon of violence against pregnant women. News stories began appearing more frequently of pregnant women being attacked by boyfriends or husbands-in some cases killing or injuring their babies. Today, 34 states offer at least partial protection for pregnant women and their unborn children. This year, Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia approved unborn victims laws and all five of the statutes protect pregnant women throughout pregnancy. Georgia and Nebraska amended existing laws to protect women and babies through the pregnancy.

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