While deposed dictator Manuel Noriega awaits his trial in the U.S. for drug trafficking, the new leader of Panama, President Guillermo Endara Galimany, went on a lengthy fast last month. The purpose, he said, was for national unity and “human solidarity” with the poor, “who suffer malnutrition because of poverty.”

Endara emphasized in an interview during his fast that the new Panama is “truly democratic.” “We are for freedom,” he said, “and that means, of course, freedom of religion. We guarantee these freedoms under our constitution and under our laws, and the final protector of those freedoms is our Supreme Court.”

Endara granted the interview last month to R. Albert Mohler, Jr., editor of the Christian Index, weekly newspaper of the Georgia (Southern) Baptist Convention. The interview took place at Panama City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, where Endara was fasting.

The Panamanian leader said the country’s people have been sustained through two decades of military dictatorship by their “aspirations [for] democracy.” He said that “people with morals” were shocked at the extent of the looting that took place amid the chaos that accompanied the U.S military intervention in December. “Something happened to [the conscience of the populace] during those days,” Endara said. “But in general, the spiritual health of the people is well.”

The greatest danger facing the nation, according to Endara, is the possibility of its failure to carry out the current experiment with democracy. He said people want a political voice, but that they also want jobs, good housing, and better living conditions. “If democracy fails to give them these,” he said, “we will be in great danger.” The Christian Index’s Mohler said that amid all the discussion about rebuilding Panama, “spiritual issues have emerged as a vital concern among large sectors of Panamanian society.” He said he was encouraged by Endara’s remarks on religious freedom, given the fact that nearly 80 percent of Panamanians are Roman Catholic. The surge of evangelical faith has become a point of tension in several Latin American countries.

INTERVIEW

‘Emerging Missions’ Hold Future of Global Outreach

Wade Coggins retired last month after over 30 years of service with the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA). The former pastor and missionary to Colombia had served as EFMA’s executive director since 1975. CHRISTIANITY TODAY talked with Coggins about the present status and the future of missions work.

What is your assessment of missions today?

The missionary movement in North America is healthy. Growth in the number of career missionaries has slacked off, but the difference has been picked up with short termers who promote missions back home and often return for further service. Yet as we come into the nineties, we must recognize the aging of contributors and uncertainty as to whether we’re picking up the support of the baby-boomer generation.

I’m most excited about the church outside the traditional [missionary] sending countries, which has had phenomenal growth. The majority of Christians in the world are now found in “two-thirds world” countries. But the growth isn’t just numbers. Those Christians are alive and aggressive in their commitment and outreach. So the church in areas that were referred to as mission fields is now the source of “emerging missions.” Recent figures indicate there are probably 35,000 missionaries now being supported out of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

What does that mean for sending countries in North America or Europe?

I don’t see the need for their involvement diminishing. What I do see is that we’ve got to work out new relationships among churches, missions, and national churches.

Missionary service will require a new caliber of person who can work with cultural sensitivity alongside people coming out of those backgrounds.

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Where are the new mission fields?

Pockets of people remain unreached because of geographic isolation, language, or culture. In broad terms, the Islamic world is now the major bloc that’s left. Only a few months ago, of course, that would have included the communist world. But with the opening of Eastern Europe, Christians in those countries are now free to do a lot of work on their own. Obviously, they need strong prayer support and certain kinds of help from the outside.

How has the opening of the Eastern Bloc changed the face of missions?

We should be looking not so much at what we can do for them—although certainly we should be alert to their needs—but at what they can teach us. These Christians have endured all kinds of difficulties and have grown and matured spiritually in significant ways. They have great opportunities to minister in a secular world—including the West—where people bend toward atheism and agnosticism. People in the Soviet Union, for example, are in an ideal position to begin to work their way down into the Muslim areas of their own country and into the Muslim world.

How have the technological developments of the past 30 years benefited missions?

Technology has done a lot in terms of communication and publishing. Missionary radio broadcasts, for example, have reached across borders into areas that previously had never heard the gospel.

Technology really enhances and expands what one person can do. The major force in the growth of the church is still going to be the individual Christian sharing his or her faith with somebody else.

CAPITAL CURRENTS

No review of homosexual ban

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear arguments about the military’s policy of banning homosexuals from service. Without comment, the justices declined to review constitutional challenges in two cases, one brought by a lesbian army-reserve sergeant denied re-enlistment, and one by a naval-reserve officer dismissed from active duty after he said he was a homosexual.

In a brief filed with the Court, the Bush administration supported the military’s policy, noting that previous Court decisions have allowed states to consider homosexual activity criminal behavior. Gay-rights groups criticized the Court’s failure to take on the issue, saying it will make discrimination against homosexuals more widespread.

Child-care conundrum

As the House of Representatives prepared to resume debate on child care last month, the church-state issue continued to be among the biggest points of controversy.

At a special meeting called by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, constitutional scholar William Bentley Ball argued that religious exemption from pervasive federal regulation must be included in the final legislative package that will be crafted by House and Senate negotiators.

Religious groups, like most members of Congress, are divided over how the government can avoid both discriminating against religiously based child-care providers and unconstitutionally giving them funds. The White House included religious groups in a small meeting on child-care strategy last month, but it remains unclear whether President Bush will try to sway congressional negotiators on the religious issue.

Personnel department

Singer Stevie Wonder has joined fellow entertainers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis on Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship volunteer team. The three celebrities performed a concert recently after a Prison Fellowship seminar. Wonder said he wants to bring prison inmates a message of hope and unity.

The Senate quickly confirmed Ervin Duggan to fill the Democratic slot open on the Federal Communications Commission. Duggan has promised to give special attention to decency issues.

Romanian Missionary Society founder Josif Tson was in Washington last month to meet with government officials about the situation in his native Romania. Tson told congressional and State Department officials that the church wants to play an active role in reshaping society there.

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