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Martin Wanjala was eager to represent the 1,000 members of his Eastern Africa churches at a global conference of Reformed churches in Grand Rapids. He never got the chance.

Wanjala was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda, to attend the founding meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Despite having the required documentation, including his bank account, marriage, and ordination certificates, Wanjala was told he lacked "sufficient ties" that ensured he would return to Uganda.

"I left the interview room a very disappointed, humiliated, and disgraced person," said Wanjala, general secretary of the Christian Reformed Church of East Africa.

Wanjala was one of 74 participants denied visas to the mid-June gathering of the WCRC, a new affiliation of 230 Reformed denominations from 108 countries. Seventeen percent of the group's 436 visa applicants were denied.

The denials angered WCRC leaders who say they represent a larger problem for international Christian initiatives. The Baptist World Alliance said 1,000 of the 5,000 registrants to its World Congress in Hawaii this July were denied visas.

"There's a growing concern around the world that it's more and more difficult to hold Christian gatherings in Europe and North America," said Clifton Kirkpatrick, co-moderator of the WCRC conference. He likened the denials to excluding about 15 percent of U.S. states from representation, adding, "That's a very difficult basis on which to have meetings with integrity."

U.S. officials' main concern is that visa applicants want to stay in the country illegally, said John Echard, a State Department spokesman. "They have to convince the [interviewer] they have sufficient ties and would return to the country of residence," ...

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September 2010

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