The link below is to an article that suggests that ‘most’ Evangelical leaders are excited about the new pope – Pope Francis. I would expect that this depend on your definition of ‘Evangelical,’ for most Evangelicals with a solid Biblical stance would still regard the Roman Catholic Church as an heretical cult and would not be closely associated with it.
Body destroyed before being identified; police try to link him with poachers.
NEW DELHI, June 14 (CDN) — A pastor in Assam state was murdered and cremated without being identified last month before family members learned of his death when they saw a photo of his body in a newspaper.
The body of Son Englang, 35, was recovered alongside National Highway 37 on May 20, with marks indicating his hands had been tightly bound before he was shot. The pastor from Mallasi village, Karbi Anglong, supported by Gospel for Asia (GFA), had reportedly been kidnapped early in the morning of the previous day as he rode his bicycle to the Bokakhat marketplace to buy paint materials for his nearly completed church building.
The unknown kidnappers, suspected Hindu extremists, reportedly took him to the jungle to kill him.
Local police took his body to a hospital in Golaghat, where he was cremated without being identified after three days.
“The hospital along with the local police cremated Pastor Englang’s ‘unclaimed body,’ as there is a provision in the hospital of holding a body for a maximum of three days,” said the Rev. Juby John, Karbi Anglong diocesan secretary of GFA.
News of his death reached his family four days after he was killed when they saw a photo of his body published on May 22 in local newspapers reporting him as unidentified.
“With great difficulty, his photo could be recognized,” said John. “It was a semi-decomposed body. Pastor Englang’s brother with a few villagers identified him and then informed the pastor’s wife.”
John told Compass that Pastor Englang had evangelized in the Daithor area for 14 years, and “many, many people came to the Lord because of his extensive evangelism.”
Anti-Christian elements in the area likely had taken note of Pastor Englang’s fearless evangelism and the church building on the verge of completion, John said.
“Pastor Englang gave me a phone call just three days before he went missing,” John said. “He was very happy and excited about the completion of the church building and said it was his dream come true.”
Along with his wife, Pastor Englang is survived by a 6-month-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
He had served with GFA since 1996, ministering in Karbi Anglong, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the site where his body was recovered.
Local media reported his death along with those of three poachers who had illegally entered Kaziranga National Park to hunt rhinoceros and were shot by park guards. The bodies of the three poachers were recovered from the park the same day that police found Pastor Englang dead on the highway.
Strangely, police reported Pastor Englang as a poacher accompanying the three who were killed inside the wildlife park. Investigations are underway regarding the suspicious claim, resulting in the arrest of a park guard and a local policeman.
Questioned by media, police were unable to explain why Pastor Englang was included with the poachers given the large distance between his body and the three recovered inside the park. They were also unable to explain the marks of binding on Pastor Englang’s hands.
“There was no weapon discovered on the pastor, whereas there were ammunitions recovered from the trespassers,” John told local newspapers.
John emphasized that Pastor Englang worked day and night on the construction of his church building for the past five months.
“He had nothing to do with the poacher case,” he said. “I spoke to the villagers and his close associates, who absolutely denied any kind of involvement of the pastor even in the past. The villagers emphasized the good character and blameless record of the pastor.”
John said he went to visit Pastor Englang’s family and the church building under construction on May 24.
“The laborers working on the church construction, who personally had nothing to do with Son Englang, wept as I spoke to them about the pastor,” he said. “His death was sudden and untimely.”
Hindu extremists have a presence in the state. Hemanta Das, a 29-year-old Christian worker whom Hindu extremists had warned to stop his ministry, succumbed to injuries in a hospital on July 1, 2007, two days after extremists beat him in the Chand Mari area of Guwahati. A convert to Christianity from Hinduism, Das previously had been a supporter of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The All India Christian Council (AICC) later wrote to state officials requesting that those who killed Das be arrested and the Christian minority community protected from such attacks. AICC noted that Hindu extremist groups had warned Das of “dire consequences” if he continued preaching Christ.
At that time the Rev. Madhu Chandra, an AICC leader from northeast India, told Compass the presence of Hindu extremist groups in the state was very high.
“When I was working with a Christian organization in the state till a few years ago, many of our workers would be attacked by extremists,” Rev. Chandra said.
By Brian Nixon, special to ASSIST News Service
Tall el-Hammam sits in the northeast quadrant of the Dead Sea, in an area known as the Kikkar, or the “disc of Jordan.” It is an area lush with farmland, water, and natural beauty.
Geographically, it is east of Jericho, at about the same level above the sea. To this day, it is one of the most important agricultural areas of Jordan, providing many fruit and vegetable crops for Jordan and for export.
As amazing as it may sound, Tall el-Hammam may also be the location of the ancient city of Sodom.
According to archeologist, Dr. Steven Collins, this site fits perfectly with the geographical profile outlined in Genesis 13-19.
How Dr. Collins arrived at this conclusion involves years of research, digs, and textual research with many colleagues, including Dr. Peter Briggs. Drs. Collins and Briggs developed a means to determine if an ancient text is a “true narrative” through a scientific methodology called “criterial screening.”
The finding? Genesis is reliable for geographical profiles, and therefore can be used to locate sites.
With this bit of knowledge, Dr. Collins set out on a course of discovery.
“When I first had the idea that the traditional site of Sodom (in the southern region of the Dead Sea) was wrong (based upon the geographical indicators), I began to think through the text, coming to conclusion that it was northeast of the Dead Sea.”
After a 250-page research paper, hours of research—in the U.S., Israel, and Jordan— Collins concluded that the site of Tall el-Hammam was the ��?one.’
“I came to this conclusion based upon its geographical location and the biblical text. In the Bible, Sodom was mentioned first in order; therefore it must have been the largest and most prominent city in the area. We find that Scripture usually orders cities by prominence and size. With that bit of knowledge we choose the largest site.”
“As a matter of fact,” Collins continued, “Tall el-Hammam was the largest site by a huge margin.”
Under the auspice of the current dig, Tall el-Hammam’s general area is 40 hectares (roughly 100 acres), which is huge by ancient Bronze Age standards.
With the current dig well under way, the findings have been staggering.
“Not only do we have the right place geographically speaking, but it falls within the right time frame (the Bronze Age), and it was destroyed during the time of Abraham (the Middle Bronze Age). When you add in the pottery, architecture (it was a fortified city), and the chronological consistency of the region to the biblical text, it is a match made in heaven, so to speak,” Collins beams as he shares this with me.
“To make it even more intriguing,” he continues, “there is great mystery concerning this site, and all of its associated sites. For some reason there is what I call a “historical hole or LB Gap” regarding the site. Meaning, after this cluster of towns was destroyed during Abraham’s time, the area was not re-occupied until much, much later; later than the sites in the regions surrounding this particular cluster.”
“It must have been seen as a taboo site of some kind. Something terrible must have happened there that caused people to stay away for so many centuries.”
I then ask Dr. Collins for some evidence.
“Well, to start with, the Tall el-Hammam site has 25 geographical indicators that align it with the description in Genesis. Compare this with something well known—like Jerusalem—that has only 16. Other sites have only 5 or 6. So, this site has many times more indicators than any other Old Testament site. That is truly amazing.”
“Second, our findings—pottery, architecture, and destruction layers—fit the timeframe profile. Meaning, we should expect to find items, like what we are finding, from the Middle Bronze period. This is exactly what we are uncovering.”
“Lastly, we have secured internationally recognized experts to review our findings. One such person is Dr. Robert Mullins, and then there are our colleagues from the Department of Antiquities in Jordan. Dr. Mullins is an expert in Bronze Age pottery, and there are many others as well. My ceramic expertise also covers the Bronze Age. Their conclusions on the matter reflect that our findings are correct. Once again, this is incredible.”
“Though we are still digging and uncovering a plethora of material and artifacts, and much research still needs to be conducted, I feel that the evidence for this being the ancient city of Sodom is increasing by the day.”
“As a matter of fact, even some critics of the Bible are giving this site some attention. There is a host of web activity—both scholarly and downright weird—that has been spawned from this discovery. It is a wonderful time to be in archeology! I must confess that I am both humbled and excited to be a part of something as significant as this.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
After nearly two and half years in jail, elderly men’s 10-year sentences overturned.
ISTANBUL, April 21 (Compass Direct News) – After more than two years in a Pakistani jail, two elderly Christian men convicted of “blasphemy” against the Quran were acquitted on Thursday (April 16) when a high court in Lahore overturned their 10-year sentence.
James Masih, 67, and Buta Masih, 72, were accused of burning pages from the Quran in October 2006 and were also tried under an anti-terrorism law because their actions were deemed to have created fear and panic. In a case that drew crowds of Islamic fanatics, they were convicted on Nov. 25, 2006 of blaspheming Islam’s sacred book.
The pair has claimed from the start that the blasphemy charges were fabricated due to a dispute over a plot of land that a Muslim neighbor wanted James Masih to sell.
“It happens many times, it is always a false story due to some other enmity,” said Father Yaqub Yousaf, the men’s parish priest. “Pastors and priests, we tell them that it is better not to speak on religion with the Muslims, not to say anything that can hurt them, so normally they don’t do that.”
After rumors erupted that the two men had burned pages of the Quran on Oct. 8, 2006, some 500 Muslims attempted to kill them. Police arrested the two Christians and held off the crowds, which stayed outside the police station through the night.
The Christian men launched an appeal soon after their conviction and have since remained in prison.
“I appeared in court 27 times during the appeal,” said Khalil Tahir Sindhu, their lawyer. “Most of the time the judges postponed the case, saying, ‘We will hear the case next time.’”
Sindhu told Compass that religious bias and public pressure led to the judge’s original decision to sentence the men and could have had much to do with the delays in hearing the appeal.
“At the last hearing [Dec. 15, 2008], the judge reserved judgment, which according to law has to be given within three months,” he said. “But it was over three months, so I went to court and told him, ‘These are old men and they are sick, so please announce the judgment.’”
James Masih was hospitalized three times during his internment, receiving treatment for a chest infection.
“Jail is totally different [in Pakistan], you hardly have proper food, and no facilities,” said Fr. Yousaf. Sources said both men were traumatized by their ordeal, an effect also felt keenly by their families, who were rarely able to visit.
Articles 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code respectively prescribe life imprisonment for desecrating the Quran and death for insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
Although the law has not been implemented to the full extent of capital punishment or life in prison since its introduction in 1986, there have been more than 20 deaths recorded in blasphemy-related violence.
Even after their acquittal and release, Sindhu said, the men will not be able to immediately return home.
“It is dangerous now, we will not send them to their home,” said Sindhu. “We will keep them away for one to two months until the situation changes. Anyone can kill them.”
Christians previously accused of blasphemy continued to experience prejudice and sometimes violence even after being cleared of the charges.
“It is difficult for the blasphemy accused to find work,” commented Wasim Muntizar from the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement. “Churches are afraid to help them, because fanatics won’t hesitate to kill the ‘blasphemer’ and attack the church.”
Although the families of James and Buta Masih remain excited at the prospect of the pair’s upcoming return home, Fr. Yousaf has urged them to keep their celebrations muted.
“They are excited, yes, but I told them not to express so strongly their joy about it,” he said. “I requested them to keep it secret, because it may not be safe – some of the Muslims may say the court has not taken the right decision. In the past people have been killed after being acquitted.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian mother wins right to high court appeal regarding ruling that favored Muslim father.
ISTANBUL, February 20 (Compass Direct News) – Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud last week granted the mother of 14-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses the right to appeal a custody decision awarding her sons to their Muslim father.
Muslim convert Medhat Ramses Labib gained custody of the boys last September, contrary to Article 20 of Egypt’s Personal Status Law, which states children should remain with their mother until age 15. The boys’ mother, Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, won the right to appeal on Feb. 11.
“We all have a little bit of hope, new hope,” said George Ramses, the twins’ older brother. “Of course, they are a little afraid about everything, but generally they are excited.”
With support from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Gaballah will appeal the Family Court’s decision awarding custody to the father before the Court of Cassation. Family Court decisions are not usually given recourse to the Court of Cassation, one of Egypt’s highest courts, and require special referral from a public prosecutor.
EIPR Director Hossam Bahgat stressed that the Court of Cassation will be examining the law on which the decision was based, not the decision itself.
“The Court of Cassation will pronounce a decision on the legal rule that Christian children, when one of their parents converts to Islam, should be automatically moved to the Muslim parent’s custody,” he said. “So it is very important in terms of changing the legal rule, but according to the law it will not have a direct impact on Andrew and Mario themselves.”
Preliminary hearings are scheduled to begin on March 2.
The twins will celebrate their 15th birthday in June of this year. At 15, Egyptian children of divorcees have the legal right to choose which parent they want to live with. Ramses told Compass that he is skeptical about whether his brothers will be given this right.
“The whole law is that kids should spend the first 15 years with their mum, and then they get to choose who they want to live with,” Ramses said. “[Choosing] is the second part of the rule that was not applied to us, so we don’t know actually what will be the case.”
The boys’ father, Labib, converted to Islam in 1999 after divorcing Gaballah to marry another woman. In 2006 Labib altered the official religious status of the boys and later applied for custody.
The boys are now at the center of two separate disputes, both of which have roots in the complex interaction between Islamic and secular law in Egypt: whether children should be automatically awarded to the Muslim parent, and whether they therefore should automatically convert to Islam.
Custody battles between Muslim fathers and Christian mothers have typically been instances where Islamic law has predominated over secular legislation. Sharia (Islamic law), which the Egyptian constitution declares as being the source of law, states that a non-Muslim should not have authority over a Muslim.
In the case of Andrew and Mario, this sharia provision meant that they should not be left under the jurisdiction of their non-Muslim mother. The automatic and compulsory conversion of the twins, following their father’s decision to become Muslim, is the second area of contention EIPR is working on behalf of Gaballah to resolve.
The issue once again shows the contradictory stances of Egyptian civil law, which reflects both freedom of religion and Islamic thought. A fatwa (religious edict) issued by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, regarding the case of Andrew and Mario states, “The religion of the two children should follow their Muslim father’s, unless they change their religion with full will after puberty.”
Although this statement allows Andrew and Mario the right to choose their religion “after puberty,” conversion from Islam is not only extremely difficult in Egypt but also dangerous.
Egypt has ratified a number of human rights treaties allowing advocacy groups like EIPR recourse to international watchdogs and advisory bodies. One of these, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), has agreed to examine the case. The commission has asked both parties to submit written statements by March in preparation for an initial hearing in May.
The European Union of Coptic Organisations for Human Rights (EUCOHR) has also weighed in, petitioning the European Parliament for help.
“We have gone to the European Parliament with a legal document detailing about 30 to 40 breaches of international covenants like the International Declaration of Human Rights,” said Ibrahim Habib, vice-chairman of EUCOHR.
Habib said he hopes involving international bodies such as these will raise the profile of the case and put pressure on the Egyptian judiciary to rule impartially. Such attention could also have positive implications for the much harassed Coptic community at large.
The report filed by EUCOHR and the U. S. Coptic Foundation for Legal Assistance, which explores violations of such pacts as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ends with this statement:
“This is a call for justice and to save the two children from the coercion, persecution and injustice with which they are overburdened and, it is respectfully requested that a prompt action be taken to save those children and their future. Also, the annulment of the judgements against the two children is promptly requested.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Persecution has diminished for some Christians in 2008, but it has increased for others. Overall, Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs believes it is worse than it used to be and will continue to worsen in 2009, reports MNN.
“I think there are situations where it’s worse. I think there are probably some isolated situations where things are improving a little bit, but I think on the whole, it’s at least as bad and probably worse than 2007, or worse than five or ten years ago,” said Nettleton.
Persecution has worsened drastically in Orissa, a state in India. Hindu radicals in that region have been rampaging against Christians since August.
“Orissa is probably the location of the worst persecution that’s going on right now in the world,” Nettleton said, “a place where they’re trying to wipe out the Christian church; a place where tens of thousands of Christians have had to flee their homes. Many of them fled literally into the jungle to escape the attacks of radical Hindus.”
In the months leading up to the Olympic games in Beijing, many hoped that the publicity surrounding that event would bring more liberty for the people of China. Unfortunately, such has not been the case.
“The concern that we had when the Olympics ended was that although the world has been watching, the Chinese continued persecuting Christians. What will they do now that the world’s not watching anymore?” Nettleton said. “Even in the months since the Olympic games, we have seen Christians arrested. We’ve seen house church services raided. So I don’t think it’s markedly better. I think it’s really about the same.”
Nettleton is not discouraged by the fact that persecution has not decreased and probably will not. He has observed that, ironically, persecution actually increases the strength of God’s church.
“One of the amazing things is that as persecution increases, the church tends to grow. As the church tends to grow, the persecution increases,” he said. “Christ promised that His followers would be persecuted, and that is coming true around the world. But that also means the church is growing. More people are coming to know Christ in a personal way.”
VOM’s biggest challenge nowadays “is to know how best to respond in a given situation of persecution,” Nettleton said.
“The challenge for us is to know the best way to support the church in restricted nations, the best way to come alongside them and lift them up, support them, and encourage them.”
Nettleton is excited about VOM’s “vital role” in connecting believers with their Christian brothers and sisters all over the world.
“When we go into a restricted nation and we’re able to deliver help, we say, ‘This is from Christians in America who love you and are praying for you during this time of suffering.’ Then when we come home and talk to the church in America we say, ‘Our brothers and sisters in restricted nations are praying for you here in America.’ We get to be a bridge between the two churches, and it’s really an exciting role that God has called Voice of the Martyrs to play.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
More than 500 senior evangelical leaders gathering in Pattaya, Thailand from October 25-30, 2008, have wrapped up their General Assembly, after five days of intensive discussion to plan the way forward in world evangelization, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
On Wednesday, delegates agreed upon six major resolutions setting out an evangelical response to religious liberty, HIV and Aids, poverty, peacemaking, creation care and the global financial crisis, according to a media release obtained by ANS.
“The worldwide financial turmoil is, at its root, evidence of what happens when too many are captivated by greed and put their faith in, and entrust their security and future aspirations to, a system animated by the maximization of wealth. Many legitimately feel betrayed,” read the resolution on the global financial crisis.
“While we hope that the painful consequences of the turmoil will be mitigated, our concern is that its impact will continue to permeate into more regions and economies of the world. We recognize that this economic crisis will have the most painful impact on the poor, who are the most vulnerable.
“We reaffirm our faith in God and acknowledge that He is in control. We repent when we have placed our trust in money, institutions and persons, rather than God. Our security is not found in the things of this world.”
The resolution called on Christians to care for the poor during the crisis and live simply and generously.
“The Body of Christ, His Church, is living with HIV,” stated the resolution on HIV, a major focus area for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). “With brokenness we admit that as Evangelical Christians we have allowed stigmatization and discrimination to characterize our relationships with people living with HIV. We repent of these sinful attitudes and commit to ensuring that they are changed.”
In the preamble to the resolution on the Millennium Development Goals, evangelical leaders stated, “In coping with the financial crisis of 2008, governments and international institutions have shown how quickly and effectively they can move to mobilize massive resources in the face of serious threats to our global, common economic well being.
“Yet one child dying of preventable causes every three seconds and 2.7 billion people barely sustained on an income of less than two dollars per day has yet to evoke a similar level of urgent response.
“We believe this to be an affront to God, a shame to governments and civil society, and a massive challenge to the witness and mission of the followers of Christ.”
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) international director Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe told delegates that they faced additional challenges to fulfilling the Great Commission from radical secularism, postmodernism, declining Christianity at the same time as growing interest in spirituality, trafficking and migration.
He insisted, however, that great challenges also brought great opportunities for evangelical engagement.
“We see this tremendous growth and this seismic shift in the church around the world and we are excited to what God is doing as he raises up women and men around the world in so many different places,” he said.
“As we think about the global reality of the world in which we live, [there are] immense challenges but also immense opportunities.”
Dr Tunnicliffe also said that the WEA would remain committed to integral mission “or holistic transformation, a proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel”.
“It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are done alongside of each other but rather in integral mission proclamation has social consequences. We call people to love and repentance in all areas of life,” he said.
He reaffirmed the WEA’s commitment to world evangelization.
“If anyone tells you that we’ve gone soft on world evangelization you can tell them that we are totally committed to world evangelization because it is only Jesus Christ that changes people’s lives,” he said.
A highlight of the week was an address from the Rev Joel Edwards, who was commissioned during the assembly as the new director of Christian anti-poverty movement Micah Challenge.
In his address, the former head of the UK Evangelical Alliance told delegates that the power to rehabilitate the word ‘evangelical’ lay in their hands.
“Whatever people think of evangelical Christians, if people are going to think differently about evangelicals the only people who can actually change their minds are evangelicals,” he said.
“We must reinvent, rehabilitate and re-inhabit what evangelical means as good news. We must present Christ credibly to our culture and we should seek to be active citizens working for long-term spiritual and social change.
“Words can change their meaning. If 420 million evangelicals in over 130 nations across the world really wanted it to happen, evangelical could mean good news.”
In another key address, the head of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the Rev Richard Howell said that an identity anchored in Christ and a universal God was an evangelical non-negotiable in an age of pluralism.
“We have but one agenda: obedience to the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ,” said Dr Howell. “We are evangelical Christians for the sake of God.”
“Our identity has to be related back to God. Unless we do that, we will never know who we are. Our identity comes from God and God alone.”
“The Christian belief in the oneness of God implies God’s universality, and the universality implies transcendence with respect to any given culture.
“Christians can never be first of all Asians, Africans, Europeans, Americans, Australians and then Christians.”
The assembly also heard from the Chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), Douglas Birdsall.
The WEA is collaborating with the LCWE in its major Cape Town 2010 meeting, which will bring together 4,000 evangelicals to assess the next steps in realizing the movement’s vision of ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’.
“You might ask is there a need for an international congress that deals with world evangelization,” Birdsall told the assembly. “I would say that throughout history, such a gathering is only necessary when the future of the life of the church is threatened by some type of challenge – either internal challenge or external pressure.”
The assembly also saw the launch of the WEA Leadership Institute, a brand new initiative to see the leaders of the WEA’s 128 national alliances trained to serve and proclaim Christ within some challenging contexts.
“Leading an Evangelical Alliance is not easy,” commented Dr Tunnicliffe. “That’s why we want to provide them with the relevant training and resources.”
Also commissioned during the week was the new leader of the WEA’s Religious Liberty Commission, Sri Lankan national Godfrey Yogarajah.
Dr Tunnicliffe rounded up the assembly with a call to evangelicals to keep in step with God’s work on earth.
“It is my prayer that we in our community will be women and men who live with divine purpose within our lives, that we will be good leaders envisioned by God to make a difference in the world,” he said.
“The most important thing that you can do with your [life] is to integrate it into the never ending story of God’s kingdom. God’s already at work in the world. He’s doing things. We just need to align with what He is doing.”
World Evangelical Alliance is made up of 128 national evangelical alliances located in 7 regions and 104 associate member organizations. The vision of WEA is to extend the Kingdom of God by making disciples of all nations and by Christ-centered transformation within society. WEA exists to foster Christian unity, to provide an identity, voice and platform for the 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.
Report from the Christian Telegraph