Journalist Mike McManus decided the nation’s problems run beyond the political and economic to the ethical.

Mike McManus is a newspaper columnist. He writes mostly for newspapers in the northeastern and midwestern states about their sagging economies and efforts of their politicians to find solutions. It’s not the most provocative topic ever to grace the pages of a newspaper, but an important one for the older industrial states.

A couple of years ago, McManus finally concluded that the problems besetting the country were not merely economic or political, but moral. So he started a second column, dealing with the Christian faith. After a year, his religion column appears in 40 newspapers, mostly small to medium-size papers. That’s surprisingly good for a writer whose column is not marketed by one of the newspaper syndicates. Along the way he has surprised a few editors who underestimated their readers’ interest in such matters.

He sells both columns over the telephone, calling editors everywhere, sometimes offering to let them try the religious column free for a while to check the reader response. That sort of offer startled one editor, D. Gunnar Carlson of the Saginaw News in Michigan. “Frankly, I was skeptical,” the editor confessed to his readers in his own column. Carlson gave McManus a try. The first column described the conversion and faith in Christ of astronaut Charlie Duke, one of the first men to walk on the moon. He had everything in life, it seemed, but a void still needed filling. “The response has been dramatic,” Carlson said. “As a newspaperman, I’ve never seen anything like it.” Readers called in and wrote their thanks. Some said they were praying that the newspaper would continue the column.

“It’s clear that growing numbers of Americans, like Mike McManus himself, are concluding that the great problems of our time will not be solved by secular or political means,” Carlson wrote. “They are exploring religious alternatives. That’s news worth reporting. Hard-bitten newspaper people like me, under the crush of daily ‘hard news’ events, sometimes tend to forget that.”

Robert Mellis, executive editor of the Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle, had a similar experience. Mellis was reluctant to give McManus a chance, thinking the paper’s own religion reporter was covering the subject, along with wire service stories. “But he made me an offer my Scottish blood couldn’t refuse. ‘Try the column for three months without paying,’ he said.”

Mellis is sold on the column now. “We ran it and asked the readers what they thought about it. We received some thoughtful, articulate responses from readers. One, in fact, said she had been ready to drop the paper because of the doom-and-gloom reporting that confronts her. ‘Your column offered hope,’ she said.”

McManus has called his column, “The Word,” but is searching for a new title, and is open to suggestions. One newspaper is calling it “Ethics/Religion.” McManus’s range of interests is wide, including individual testimonies, the application of Judeo-Christian values in the workplace, healing of marriages, racial discrimination and the church.

The original impetus for the column came from McManus’s pastor, Terry Fullam, the rector of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut. McManus and his wife had been converted to Christ through Fullam’s preaching earlier in the 1970s.

“What are you doing to serve the Lord?” Fullam challenged his fast-growing congregation in a sermon one Sunday morning. McManus’s response to himself was, “Well, not much.” He was writing the “Northern Perspective” column. “My first impression was a sinking feeling of obligation.” More work, he thought, remembering how hard it was to sell one column over the phone. He also questioned his own credentials—no seminary education, no special training in the Bible. But he does know how to sell a column and write thought-provoking commentary, which is what newspaper editors generally want to purchase.

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“I’m particularly interested in strengthening the church,” he says. “All of us have something we’re doing that can be transformed into service for the Lord. So the question is, what are you doing?” he asks, echoing Fullam’s earlier sermon. “To the extent which you’re not doing anything, that’s the problem the church faces today.”

Why The Miskitos Are A People Held Hostage

A Central American Indian tribe, the Miskitos, are the pawns in a deadly power struggle between competing political factions and ideologies in Nicaragua. Their casualties have been in the hundreds since a military offensive was launched across their territory by Honduras-based Nicaraguan exiles in July. The conflict has destroyed villages, divided families, and left thousands homeless.

Living along the country’s Caribbean (Atlantic) seaboard, the Miskitos have always been a separate breed from the Roman Catholic “Spaniards” on the Pacific seaboard. Their area, shared with other Indian tribes and blacks of Jamaican origin, was a British dependency until 1894, and, after their own language, the Miskitos are most likely to learn English. The tribe was discipled by Moravian missionaries from the middle of the last century so thoroughly that to be Miskito is virtually to be Moravian Protestant. Separated by mountains, forests, and marsh lands, the east of the country has developed quite separately. The Miskitos have been an apolitical people led by their pastors and elders. They kept their distance from central Nicaraguan authority, whether that of former dictator Anastasio Somoza or the current collective Marxist rule of the Sandinistas.

While Somoza oppressed the majority Hispanic population, he simply neglected the Indians. The Miskitos were therefore neither strongly anti-Somoza nor eagerly pro-Sandinista. The Sandinist enthusiasm for reshaping Nicaragua soon led to friction with the ruggedly independent Miskitos. The establishment of a strong military presence, the arrival of Cuban doctors and teachers, and an effort to switch school instruction from Miskito to Spanish all aroused fears and resentment.

Antigovernment riots erupted last winter, and Sandinist security officers became convinced that sympathizers of the ousted Somoza regime were stirring up opposition. Last February Sandinist troops tried to seize one leader in a crowded Moravian church in the coastal town of Prinzapolka. There was a clash in which four Indians and four soldiers died. Thousands of Indians began a sit-in in several towns to press for the release of their leaders, arrested on suspicion of collaboration—mostly Moravian pastors and lay leaders.

Meanwhile antigovernment forces increased their armed raids into Nicaragua. Nicaraguan troops reacted strongly, evacuating more than 8,000 Miskitos from their border villages to create a free-fire zone for subsequent operations. They moved the residents to virgin land 50 miles south, and then burned their homes and crops and killed their animals (rather then herding them to the new settlements). Several thousand, however, fled across the Rio Coco into Honduras.

U.S. press leaks of a White House-approved $19 million CIA plan to support subversion and destabilization of the Nicaraguan government through exile groups and internal opposition elements have aggravated tensions. So has U.S. refusal to apply the neutrality laws against arms supplies and training for exiled Nicaraguans in Florida and California, while the neutrality laws are used against Haitians preparing to attack their rightwing dicatorship. The result has been to bring down on all Miskitos the hostility and suspicion of the Nicaraguan authorities, and the arrest and killing in the last several months of many of their religious leaders.

Jim and Mary Whitmer recently visited the Mocoron refugee camp in Honduras, where 9,100 Miskitos are housed (World Relief is servicing another 2,600 from three outlying distribution centers). Jim took pictures, and Mary filed the report that follows.

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