The link below is to an article that takes a look at Hamas – a sort of introduction to the group.
Following the horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, gun sales have soared across the US as enthusiasts fear the introduction of new gun laws. The link below is to an article that looks at the situation.
Over the weekend, the Church of England introduced draft legislation putting the country’s Anglican communion on the fast track to allowing women’s ordination, reports Catholic News Agency.
On Saturday, May 8, the Church of England’s revision committee published a 142-page review in favor of draft proposals that support women being consecrated as bishops and priests.
According to Reuters, the church’s revision committee also proposed safeguards for more traditional parishes who have expressed opposition to ordaining women, including the right to request that a male bishop perform blessings and ordinations. However, the committee proposals did not meet the requests by these parishes for new dioceses or a special class of bishops.
“After much discussion the Committee rejected proposals aimed at fundamentally changing the approach of the legislation for those unable to receive the ministry of female bishops,” wrote Church of England officials in a statement Monday.
The draft proposals will now go forward for debate at the Church’s General Synod, in July in York, Northern England. If passed, the Church of England will hold the same position on female ordination as the Anglican Communion in the United States and New Zealand.
Monday’s statement also clarified that the “earliest that the legislation could achieve final approval in Synod (when two-thirds majorities in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity will be required) is 2012, following which parliamentary approval and the Royal Assent would be needed.”
The statement added that “2014 remains the earliest realistic date when the first women might be consecrated as bishops.”
This move is likely to increase interest among traditionalist Anglicans in the Pope’s recent invitation for Church of England members to become Catholic. Last November, the Holy Father released “Anglicanorum coetibus,” a motu propio which offered Vatican guidelines for Anglican groups to enter into communion with the Catholic Church.
The Sunday Telegraph in Britain reported on May 2 that several Anglican bishops recently met with Vatican officials to discuss the process of converting to Catholicism.
Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reportedly urging them not to leave the Church of England, several bishops are looking to break from the Anglican Communion over their opposition to the introduction of women bishops and priests.
According to the British paper, Bishops John Broadhurst, Keith Newton and Andrew Burnham, from the Dioceses of Fulham, Richborough and Ebbsfleet respectively, all met with senior Vatican officials last week.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Investigation concludes Hindu nationalist state government is responsible.
NEW DELHI, March 22 (CDN) — Christians in Karnataka state are under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in 500 days, according to an independent investigation by a former judge of the Karnataka High Court.
The spate began on Sept. 14, 2008, when at least 12 churches were attacked in one day in Karnataka’s Mangalore city, in Dakshina Kannada district, said Justice Michael Saldanha, former judge of the Karnataka High Court.
“On Jan. 26 – the day we celebrated India’s Republic Day – Karnataka’s 1,000th attack took place in Mysore city,” Saldanha told Compass, saying the figure was based on reports from faith-based organizations.
Saldanha conducted the People’s Tribunal Enquiry into the attacks on Christians in Karnataka on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ Dakshina Kannada district chapter, the Catholic Association of South Kanara (another name for Dakshina Kannada) and the Karnataka Chapter of Transparency International.
“Attacks are taking place every day,” said Saldanha, chairperson of the Karnataka Chapter of Transparency International.
The latest attack took place on Wednesday (March 17), when a mob of around 150 people led by the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, stormed the funeral of a 50-year-old Christian identified only as Isaac, reported the Karnataka-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
As Pastor Sunder Raj of St. Thomas Church in Gijahalli, near Arsikere in Hassan district, was about to begin the funeral service, the mob pulled the coffin apart and desecrated the cross the relatives of the deceased were carrying. They threw the body into a tractor and dumped it outside, saying his burial would have contaminated Indian soil and his body should be buried in Rome or the United States, added the GCIC.
With police intervention, the funeral took place later the same day.
Blaming the state government for the attacks, Saldanha said the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had “outdone Orissa.”
Karnataka Home Minister V.S. Acharya denied the results of the inquiry.
“The allegation of Karnataka having faced 1,000 attacks is absolutely false,” Acharya told Compass. “There is liberty in the state. Sections of the media are trying to hype it, and such claims are politically motivated. Karnataka is the most peaceful state in India, and the people are law-abiding.”
The wave of persecution in Karnataka began as fallout of the anti-Christian mayhem in eastern Orissa state, where Maoists killed a VHP leader on Aug. 23, 2008, with Hindu extremists wrongly accusing Christians. The attacks in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the bloodbath, killed more than 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
Violent attacks have stopped in Orissa, but Karnataka continues to burn.
In addition to the attacks, numerous Christians also have faced false charges of fraudulent or forced conversions throughout Karnataka.
“I have been to many police stations where complaints of [forced] conversions have been lodged against Christians, and when I asked the police why they were acting on frivolous complaints, most of them told me that they had orders from above,” he said.
In his report, he notes that Christians “are dragged to the police station under false allegations, immediately locked up, beaten up and denied bail by the lower judiciary, which functions as the loyal partner of the police department and refuses bail on the grounds that ‘the police have objected.’”
The report says 468 Christian workers in rural areas had been targeted with such actions since September 2008.
“Numerous others have been threatened and beaten up,” the report states. “The police are totally out of control, with the lower judiciary having abdicated its constitutional obligation of safeguarding the citizens’ rights particularly from a tyrannical state machinery, while the state government proclaims that everything is peaceful.”
Chief Minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa and Home Minister Acharya are from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Hindu nationalist conglomerate or the RSS), believed to be the parent organization of the BJP, Saldanha pointed out.
He also said that although the attacks on Christians had turned public sentiment against the BJP in Karnataka, the party seemed to care little as both opposition parties, the Congress Party and the regional Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) party, were “in shambles” in the state.
In May 2009 the BJP lost general (national) elections, and since then sections of the party are in desperation, he said, adding, “Perhaps this is one of the reasons why attacks continue to happen in Karnataka.”
Saldanha said the state government was controlling media coverage of the attacks by “monetary appeasement.”
“The citizens are told that the situation is happy and under control, principally because the greater part of the media is being fed or appeased with massive publicity advertisements which have cost the state exchequer over 400 million rupees [US$8.8 million], most of the money clandestinely billed to the various Government Corporations and Public bodies,” Saldanha states in the introduction to his yet unpublished report.
The BJP came to sole power in Karnataka in May 2008. Prior to that, it ruled in alliance with the JD-S party for 20 months.
There are a little more than 1 million Christians in Karnataka, where the total population is over 52 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
Social, political factors behind country’s reluctance to allow Christianity to grow
THIMPHU, Bhutan, February 1 (CDN) — Bars, pubs and discos have become legal in Bhutan – a cause of concern for the older generation – but construction of worship buildings other than Buddhist or Hindu temples is still prohibited.
The prohibition remains in force even though Christians abide by Bhutan’s codes of conduct, speaking the Dzongkha language as well as the Nepali language at church gatherings, and wearing the national dress.
The National Assembly of Bhutan banned the practice of non-Buddhist and non-Hindu religions through edicts in 1969 and in 1979. But Christians do meet for Sunday worship, with attendance of more than 100 Christians in an underground church not unusual.
Why are Christians seen as a greater threat to the culture of the nation than the “democracy disco culture,” as one government official described the emerging subculture among the Bhutanese youth? It is believed that Christianity will create religious tensions in the country.
“There are reasons why Christianity is not being tolerated in the country,” said a former high government official who requested anonymity. “Look at the communal tensions in India and Nepal. Christianity can divide the Bhutanese society as well.”
He mentioned two incidents that appeared in the Bhutanese press last year, one in which 13 Christians allegedly hanged a woman they had accused of being a witch, and a suicide by a Hindu man who reportedly left a note saying his Christian wife and children were pressuring him to convert.
Christians here said these were isolated incidents that they strongly condemned.
“A majority of believers in Bhutan are not educated and are from lower economic backgrounds,” said the pastor of an underground church. “When open preaching is not allowed, this is what happens.”
Sound Christian teaching remains lacking, he said. There is a tremendous need for good Christian teaching and general education among the Christians in Bhutan, said the pastor.
“But little can be done given the restrictions we face here.”
Christians are only allowed to pray if someone is sick among their acquaintances, he added.
The government also fears that Christianity could cause societal tensions because of the general misconception that Christians lure others to the faith with money; converts are viewed with suspicion, said a government official on condition of anonymity.
“There should be one religion in one nation,” said the official, adding that religious freedom should be allowed only after educating people.
Threat from Within
Bhutanese officials are no strangers to religious conflict.
“You must also understand that the kind of Buddhism practiced in Bhutan is a minority sect within the two Buddhist divisions,” said the former government official.
A majority of Buddhists in Bhutan practice Vajrayāna Buddhism, also known as Tantric Buddhism, and belong to the larger Mahayana sect, one of the two major divisions of the religion along with the Theravada sect.
Theravada Buddhism has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries, including Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Mahayana is practiced in a few East Asian countries, including Japan.
Unlike Theravada, which is more individualistic in its motivation, Mahayana Buddhism involves an aspiration to achieve enlightenment not only for one’s own sake, but for the sake of all “sentient” beings.
“There is a perceived threat to the Buddhist sect in Bhutan from the more powerful Theravada division,” said the source, without divulging more about the clash within Buddhism. “In such a scenario, how can you expect the government to willingly open doors to Christianity, which too is a threat?”
Of Bhutan’s more than 670,000 people, Christians are estimated to range in number between 3,000 and 6,000. Around 75 percent of the people practice Buddhism, and roughly 22 percent are Hindus, mostly of Nepali origin.
Monarchy and Buddhism
Religion is so closely linked to the monarchy in Bhutan that one cannot exist without the other.
The national flag of Bhutan, which consists of a white dragon over a yellow and orange background, also has religion in it. While the yellow half represents civil and political powers of the King, the orange signifies monastic traditions of Buddha’s teachings.
The religious link is protected in the new constitution, which was adopted in March 2008. Article 2 notes that the dual powers of religion and politics shall be unified in the person of the king, “who, as a Buddhist, shall be the upholder of the Chhoe-sid,” the traditional dual system of governance characterized by the sharing of power between the religious and political heads of the country.
Given that the king embodies religious and political authority, the common people worship him.
Additionally, Buddhism is woven into the national fabric. Bhutan is the only country in the world that employs a “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) equation to measure its people’s level of happiness, and the GNH assumes that all citizens are Buddhist. Respondents to the GNH survey are asked questions concerning “spiritual activities like meditation and prayers, and consideration of karmic effects in daily life.”
The introduction of democracy in Bhutan did not involve disturbing the religious and cultural status quo. While former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006, brought democracy to Bhutan without any demand for it, people believe his intentions were far from transforming the country into a full democracy.
It is believed that the political turmoil in neighboring Nepal partly influenced King Singye Wangchuck’s decision to make the country, at least on paper, a constitutional monarchy after over 100 years of absolute monarchy. A decade-long civil war led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist – which took more than 12,000 lives – is believed to be behind the abolition of the royal parliamentary system and the adoption of a socialist republic in Nepal. In 2006 the then-king of Nepal, Gyanendra, agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people.
All sources in Bhutan confirmed that the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (selected in 2006 but not crowned until 2008), was still the supreme ruler. Perhaps this is why both the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Peace and Prosperity) Party and the opposition People’s Democratic Party are royalists.
Pictures of kings of Bhutan are found everywhere in the country – in homes, shops, hotels, underground churches and on street walls. Many large posters with the kings’ pictures carrying the inscription “Kings of our Hearts” can be seen along the streets. Even public buses have “Our Kings Forever” painted on them.
“But you cannot expect things to change overnight,” said the former government official. “It’s not wise to allow development without any bridle. Things are improving slowly.
Added an optimistic source, “Freedom in the real sense of the word and in all spheres is bound to come to Bhutan. It’s just a matter of time.”
Report from Compass Direct News
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
The controversial Anti-Conversion Bill in Sri Lanka has suffered a great setback with the recent suspension of the Bill by the Parliament as a result of intense opposition from the Christian population, reports Success Kanayo Uchime, special to ASSIST News Service.
In a report from the UK-based Release International (RI), a parliamentary committee comprised of Christian parliamentarians and leaders of political parties examined the Bill and agreed that it could have serious consequences on religious activities, spark inter-religious conflict and possibly violate the country’s constitution.
It stated that the Minister of Religious Affairs Pandu Bandaranayake, who confirmed that Christians have called for more clarity on some words in the Bill said that despite the opposition from the Buddhist-led party, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the Bill will be re-examined by the Ministry’s religious consultative committee.
RI report noted that a local media said that part of the Bill rejects the offer of a gift, cash or any other incentive to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another and is punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees (about £6,800).
“Christians fear that the wording is open to abuse, and may severely restrict Christian activities in Sri Lanka,” the report said.
In another report by the BBC, it said that it has gathered that the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka has reported that the conflict in Sri Lanka has killed hundreds of children and left many more injured.
It noted that thousands of children are at risk because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines and that the intense fighting is going on between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in north-eastern Sri Lanka.
“The Tigers have been driven from most of the territory they held by the army. They are now cornered in a small patch of jungle and coastal area in Mullaitivu district,” UNICEF report said.
In his reaction, the UNICEF Executive Director, Ann Veneman, said the children and their families caught in the conflict zone are at risk of dying from disease and malnutrition.
“Regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies is urgently required, so that life-saving supplies can be provided, and civilians must be allowed to move to safe areas where essential humanitarian support is more readily available,” Veneman further said.
Sri Lanka is said to have a multi ethnic and multi religious population, while Buddhism constitutes the religious faith of about 70% of the population of the island, most of whom follow the Theravada school of Buddhism.
Further to that Sri Lanka also has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominately Buddhist nation, with the Sangha having existed in a largely unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 2nd century BCE.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
IT may seem an unnecessary task to write a new Memoir of ANDREW FULLER when three have already appeared, each possessing great excellence, written by men who had the best of all qualifications for a biographer, – a personal knowledge of the life they pourtrayed. Besides these more lengthy memoirs, there have appeared lighter sketches, from the pen of familiar friends and warm admirers; so that, long ere this, the public has had ample means of forming its judgment on his character.
A new book, however, is sure to find new readers, and the life of such a man as Andrew Fuller is not one to pass away lightly from us. Anything that will revive the fellowship of old friends, and introduce new ones to a knowledge of his history, can scarcely be unwelcome.
I have tried to keep in view the supposition that many of my readers have only the most general notion of what Mr. Fuller said and did; and that some, at least, are scarcely likely to be tempted to a closer acquaintance by the uninviting folio of small print which contains his works. I have, therefore, endeavoured to give a careful summary of his labours and writings, and to define his position in reference to his various antagonists. Above all, I have been concerned to point out how his life, previous to the year 1792, was one solemn preparation for his great missionary work.
Many readers will find much in this volume with which they are already familiar: a life cannot be re-made, even if it be re-written. They may, however, possibly find old material so re-arranged as to enable them to trace clearly the growth of Mr. Fuller’s mind and the progress of his labours. A good part will certainly be new to almost all; and I can but hope, that for the sake of this, Mr. Fuller’s friends will pardon the repetition of what is already known, to them. As in the history of a country, old buried material will turn up to refresh the page of the historian, so is the biographer gladdened with memoranda which, a loving friendship has kept to itself as a sacred treasure, or which circumstances of an accidental kind have brought to his hand. Of Much a character are the Letters to the Serampore brethren, and some unpublished parts of the Diary, with other lighter gleanings.
The book has been written under circumstances anything but calculated to insure its accuracy and interest. It has, however, been compiled with a warm interest in the theme; and I can only hope it may be as pleasant and refreshing to the reader to peruse these memorials as it has been to me to collect them.
T. E. F.
MOST men have a desire to know something of the outward appearance of those whom they have known only through books or public fame. They are curious to see how far the qualities they have learnt to love and appreciate will find their way into the face, or express themselves in the gait and form of the “whole man.” Though sometimes the personal appearance of one whom our affection has exalted into a hero, is a little disappointing, more frequently it revives our old acquaintance, and deepens the impressions we have received of his character from other sources.
Andrew Fuller cannot now be seen in the flesh, for nearly half a century has passed away since he died. Now and then an “old disciple” may be met with, having recollections of personal communion, but the number of those thus privileged is fast lessening. The reader may, nevertheless, be introduced to what can be told here of “his bodily presence.” As form helps to realize life, he may find, as he tracks the pilgrimage of this strong and holy man, the glimpse he has caught of the outward man, even, by description, may be of some service.
The writer may perhaps be tempted to this course, since, long before he knew anything about the life and writings of Andrew Fuller, he was familiar with a portrait of him, painted with no common power; which portrait, hanging over the mantelpiece, seemed to cast a solemn shadow over the room, imparting its grave and serious look to the very furniture. It was hard, indeed, to believe it was not alive, so searching was the deep and tender glance with which it chased the observer into every corner. It looked down on us like a silent judge, deciding our childish quarrels, and frightening back the angry word from the lip, with an expression of mute yet pleading sternness it would be hard to find on any other canvas. Nor was it in the room alone its power was felt. It seemed to haunt the house. Many and many a time it has been near in childish watchings in the night, as if conscience had taken bodily shape in the abiding presence of so stern a monitor.
This was the writer’s first acquaintance with Andrew Fuller; yet now that years have passed away, and another, and, it may be presumed, more matured estimate of him, has been formed from the perusal of his life and writings, all the old child feeling comes back again. The two impressions though received under such different circumstances, are much the same. Moreover, the remembrance of that picture has been like an interpreting companion in the study of his life. He has seemed ever at our side as we followed him in his stern, unbending way. Not only can we “well believe” all that we read of his loyal fidelity to conscience, his calm confidence in battle, and his unswerving constancy to his chosen toil, as he holds the home-link of the chain that bound the brethren in England to their messengers across the sea; but a glance at the picture tells us it must have been so.
The portrait thus referred to is that of a man. tall, broad-chested, and firmly-set, the whole figure well harmonizing with the expression of the face. Ponderous, and perhaps a little heavy, but surely not ungainly, for “not giants but monsters are ill-proportioned.” The hair is parted in the middle, the brow square and of fair height, the eyes deeply set, overhung with large bushy eyebrows, not giving you the idea of seeing quickly the surface of things, but of slowly penetrating to their depths. The whole face has a massive Johnsonian expression, which the accomplished author of “Rab and his Friends” characterizes as “sleeping thunder,” and to quote an expression from the same author, in describing his humbler hero, having about it the “marks of many battle-fields.” Shining through these sterner features there is a look of great tenderness, but not of tenderness weakly exercised – ‘very jealous for the “Lord God of hosts,” yet full of pity for the erring and the lost.
It would not be difficult, with the picture as our guide, to conjecture the mental and moral features of the man whom it portrays. We should surmise that he had made his own way in the world, through much toil and many sorrows. If we wished to add to it an illustration of his life, we should put an axe in his hand, and the clearings of a forest in the background, as representing one who had settled in strange lands and broken up virgin soil. We should further conclude, that he would be ruled by intense convictions, and, fearless of danger, would follow wherever they led him, and he would leave his mark on whatever he undertook. The lower part of the face looks as if his speech would faithfully interpret the meanings we have read elsewhere. There will be, we should say, neither eagerness nor haste in his words, but they will be few and weighty, and their utterance slow and pausing.
Such, indeed, were the features of the life which this picture realizes so faithfully. In its first stage we have the history of one slowly growing up to the great truth expounded in ” The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation;” and in its second, impelled by the principle he had reached, seeking the salvation of the world in the great missionary enterprise, in the service of which he lived and died The church reveres his memory, and would fain perpetuate it, because he made a great outline of truth and filled it up with his life.
It behoves the artist to spend his main skill on the face of the sitter, that the beholder may carry away that which it is most desirable he should remember. The biographer has the same task, filling up the happy outline which has been given him, once for all, by the author of the “Worthies of England,” when he declares his aim and task to be, (1) Giving some glory to God; (2) Preserving the memory of the dead; (3) Holding forth examples to the living; (4) The entertainment of the reader.
NOTE: I will be posting the entirety of this work on both this Blog and my web site at:
Six months after attack, Muslim assailants still at large; weary congregation faces heat, rain.
GARISSA, Kenya, March 5 (Compass Direct News) – Six months after a gang of Muslim youths ruined a church building in this town in northern Kenya, Christians still worshipping in the sweltering heat of the open air say they feel disillusioned that officials have done nothing to punish the culprits or restore their structure.
On a sunny afternoon last Sept. 14, when angry Muslim youths threw more than 400 members of the Redeemed Gospel Church out of their church building, the Christians hoped they would be able to return to the ruins of their former structure. That hope is quickly giving way to anger, hopelessness and despair.
“After six months in the open, the church feels tired and cheated,” said pastor David Matolo. “We are fed up with the empty promises from the government administration.”
He said the church, which began worshipping in Garissa in early 2001 with only a dozen members, is fast shrinking.
“Our church membership has decreased, which is of great concern to me,” he told Compass. “The church thinks that the government has decided to buy time – almost every month I do book appointments with the relevant authorities, who on several occasions have given us a deaf ear.”
Since the attack, church members have been meeting at the town show grounds. Just a few miles from the Somali border, the site has few trees to protect the congregation from the scorching sun, with temperatures ranging from 92 to 104 degrees F (30 to 40 degrees C).
Asked why he thought government officials were reluctant to grant the church a permanent place of worship as promised, an irritated Matolo did not hesitate to reply.
“The administration has decided, ‘kutesa [inflict pain on us],’ always making promises that never come to pass,” he said. “At times the provincial commissioner deliberately decides not to take my phone calls. I have had a painful experience.”
Matolo said he has asked the administration either to allow the church to build a new structure on land lying idle near a police training college or to let them return to their original site. “We are ready for any eventuality,” he said. “We feel that the administration is not concerned about our spiritual welfare.”
Asked about the pastor’s complaints, provincial police officer Stephen Chelimo told Compass, “The issue at the moment is not within my docket, but wholly rests upon the provincial commissioner.”
But Provincial Commissioner Stephen Maingi said the onus rested on the district commissioner. “Let the district commissioner sort this issue with the pastor,” Maingi said.
District Commissioner Onyango Ogango, in turn, indicated the church itself was the source of problems.
“If the church is allowed to return to their original site, we will expect a fight to erupt with the Muslims,” Ogango said. “Earlier on, the church began very well during its initial stage of inception with controlled worship, but later it turned out to hold noisy prayers and loud songs.”
Further questioned about these allegations, however, Ogango said he would call the pastor to discuss a resolution. Even so, Matolo said previous contact with the district commissioner did not leave him with high expectations.
“Our district commissioner seemed to have no feelings for our predicament,” he said. “The faces of the congregation members speak a lot.”
A glance at the worshippers confirmed his appraisal. They looked weary and anxious, with impending April rains expected to add to the indignity of their situation. Matolo said his congregation feels that soon it will be difficult to worship at all.
Even a temporary home did not appear to be forthcoming. The pastor said their request for a site near the provincial commissioner’s residence was dismissed on the grounds that it would create a security concern.
Radical Islamic Influence
Tensions between Christians and the Muslim-majority population in the semi-desert town of 20,000 people began in June 2007, when Muslims built a mosque too close to the church building – only three meters separated the two structures.
Matolo said pleas to District Commissioner Ogango did nothing to reverse the encroachment of Muslim worshippers.
Land issues alone have not been responsible for tensions in the area. The Rev. Ibrahim Kamwaro, chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship in Garissa, said Matolo had offended Muslims when he preached to a lame Muslim man. Muslims were said to be upset that the pastor persuaded the disabled man to stop going to the mosque and instead join his church.
Matolo’s alleged promise to the disabled man of a better life offended area Muslims, Rev. Kamwaro said.
Christians feel increasingly hunted and haunted as the spread of Islamic extremism is fast gaining ground in this town, located about 400 kilometers (249 miles) from Nairobi, the capital. In neighboring Somalia, newly elected President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on Feb. 28 offered the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) in exchange for a truce with a rebel extremist group said to have ties to al Qaeda, al Shabaab; the rebels said they would keep fighting. Many fear that Muslim youths in this lawless part of Kenya will be tempted to adopt the radical, uncompromising posture of the fighters.
To date, the gang of more than 50 Muslim youths who attacked worshippers and brought their church to ruins have not been apprehended. Members of the congregation feel justice is increasingly elusive.
In Garissa, Muslims restrict churches in other ways. Christians are not allowed to pray, sing or use musical instruments in rented homes owned by Muslims. No teaching of Christian Religious Education in schools is allowed; only Islamic Religious Knowledge is taught.
Garissa has more than 15 Christian denominations, including the East Africa Pentecostal Church, the Redeemed Gospel Church, the Anglican Church, Deliverance Church, Full Gospel Churches of Kenya and the African Inland Church.
Report from Compass Direct News
The footage below contains an introduction to Google Earth 5 and its new ability to explore the ocean. Worth a look I think: