American missionary shot to death in Kenya
Missionary Paul A. Ritchey, of Hagerstown, Maryland, was shot to death by a group of gunmen who invaded and robbed his residence in the far western Kenya town of Malaba, on the Ugandan border.

There's quite a bit of discrepancies in various media reports (including the victim's name, variously and erroneously given as Richie, Ritcheri, and Ritch), but they agree that he was working with Outreach Baptist Church in the town and that he had been ministering on both sides of the border.

Teso District police officer William Okello described the attack to the Associated Press: "There were two local children watching television in the house where he was staying, and the intruders told them to lie down. When [Ritchey] came out of the bedroom, one of the men told him in Kiswahili to hand over his money. Apparently he didn't understand, and he told them to go away. Then he was shot."

John Otieno, pastor of Outreach Baptist, told The East African Standard that there were three invaders, armed with an AK-47 rifle, a panga (machete), and a knife, "The deceased was watching television when the gangsters forced everybody to lie down. The priest had earlier visited Uganda for prayers. The killers escaped to Uganda through the Malaba River," reports the Standard.

The Nairobi newspaper also includes this indecipherable but ominous addendum: "The murder occurred a week after security officers arrested seven suspects in connection with a spate of thuggery that had hit Teso District. … The operation which was led by Chief Inspector Crispus Mutalii of the Administration Police and Teso Deputy OCPD, Mr Ben Changulo, led to the arrest two pastors." Weblog can't find reference to the arrest of two pastors in the Standard archives.

Ritchey, who had been traveling to Kenya for several years, was a member of Hagerstown's Bible Brethren Church. Pastor Paul Reno didn't give a statement to The Herald-Mail, saying the family had requested privacy. The Baltimore Sun says he was married with several adult children.

New Hampshire town moves polling place from church because it hosted alternative Episcopal service
In May, Weblog noted that the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, removed a Methodist church from its list of polling places after a Jewish attorney complained that being asked to vote there violated his freedom. ''In order to vote, you basically had to bow before the cross,'' Rob Meltzer complained. ''I was sick for a week.'' (He later voted by absentee ballot.)

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This week, it's not the cross that some are objecting to in a battle over the use of Durham (New Hampshire) Evangelical Church as a polling station. It's the fact that the church was used by conservative Episcopalians for an alternative service to protest the consecration of homosexual bishop Gene Robinson.

Construction at the usual voting site, Oyster River High School, sent the town looking for an alternative for this year's elections. The church, which declined payment from the city, was chosen for its central location and accessibility for handicapped voters. But opponents said the town's choice was offensive.

Lesbian Paula Roy said that if the town went ahead with its decision, "I, like many voters, will feel denied my right to vote," she told the town council

Durham Evangelical Church pastor Terry Sharbaugh found the opposition surprising. "When the town utilizes this church for town stuff, it's a town venue that day," he told Foster's Daily Democrat. "It's not a church venue. We don't check anybody's [faith] at the door."

State Rep. Judith Spang, a Democrat who represents Durham, said she "felt as strongly as anyone [in support of Robinson's] consecration," but warned the town about moving the polling place. "This church has been a wonderful member of the community," she said. "How are we going to get out of this if we say right now, you're not a respected member of the community?"

This week, the town council moved the polling place to a local business, Heidelberg Web Systems.

No comment yet from Sharbaugh, but his earlier comments in the Democrat probably sum up his feelings now. "The sad part of it for me is, though we know we have opponents in this town, I'll guarantee you we have treated them better than they have treated us," he said. "A part of this that always does hit me, in this town, a university town that likes to talk about tolerance, how incredibly intolerant people can be."

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Religious freedom and persecution:

  • 11 detained over Christmas prayer meetings in Laos, says rights group | More than 10 other Christians are currently sought by the police in the same province for organizing Christmas prayer meetings, says the Lao Movement for Human Rights (AFP)

  • Conversion row rerun | The specter of anti-Christian violence has raised its head again in Madhya Pradesh's Jhabua district, notorious for attacks on churches and missionaries (The Telegraph, Calcutta, India)

  • Two sides of Hanoi at Christmas | The secular holiday of Christmas has also proved a hit in communist Vietnam. (Hugo Restall, The Wall Street Journal Europe, sub. req'd)

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Anglican woes:

  • Episcopals deal with differing views | Several advocacy groups several springing up nationwide are fighting to prevent their conservative dioceses from separating from the church (Associated Press)

  • New Episcopal bishop to have hands full | Nobody knows what 2004 holds for Bishop Rob O'Neill, other than the need to confront a rift over decisions by the Episcopal Church USA last summer that recognized same-sex unions and endorsed the church's first openly gay bishop (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Also: God had other plans for aspiring pilot | Already, O'Neill has drawn criticism from conservatives for his support of the gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire (The Denver Post)

  • New bishop: Gay marriage a 'civil right' | The embattled bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire is not making any apologies for his openly gay lifestyle and said he and his male partner of 14 years would be married if New Hampshire legalized marriage or civil unions between partners of the same sex (Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, Mass.)

Church life:

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  • She says Jesus wed | More than 10 years ago, Margaret Starbird finished writing her first book, making a controversial claim about Jesus (The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.)

  • 2,000-year-old leper found in Jerusalem | "This is the oldest archaeological finding of leprosy in the Middle East," says archaeologist Shimon Gibson. "Leprosy is mentioned in the Bible, but until now, we could not be sure whether these biblical references are to the disease we know as leprosy, or to something else." (Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv)

  • Doctoring the Bible and hiding the role of Africa | Very few Christian preachers, especially those from the West, ever mention the anti-colonial heritage of Jesus Christ, the founder of their faith (Dominic Odipo, The East African Standard, Nairobi)


  • Church arson attempt stopped | A week after vandals scrawled satanic messages and crucified a child-sized doll outside the Morningside Friends Church, police thwarted an arson attempt at the evangelical church early Wednesday (Palm Beach Post)

  • Grandmother shot in church during New Year's Eve service | Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church was packed Wednesday night for a special service in which 12 area churches gathered to ring in the new year (Associated Press)



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Missions & ministry:

  • Home away from home? | For the first time, foreign students were part of the regularly scheduled Urbana convention instead of having a separate gathering (The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.)

  • St. Paul cops rely on a higher power | When it comes to fighting crime in St. Paul, police have a number of tools at their disposal: sophisticated computer networks, high-tech crime labs—oh, and divine intervention (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)


  • Flocks growing at religious colleges | While many religion-oriented universities are respected, some of the more conservative schools or their founders have unorthodox, controversial reputations (Palm Beach Post)

  • Grant to go for 'green' building | U.S. gives college $7.5 million to build `environmentally friendly' library (Chicago Tribune)

  • Why supporters of public education can applaud the growth of faith | Parents who choose non-government schooling, especially in the fastest growing sector of Christian and other faith-based schools, do so because of their convictions about what education is, and what is best for their children (Stephen O'Doherty, The Sydney Morning Herald)

Pop culture:

Pope John Paul II:

Other stories of interest:

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  • Quest for spirituality has many looking within | In a world where pagers and cell phones keep people on call and the laptop extends the workplace even into the bedroom, the quest for inner peace has rarely been so difficult or so critical, observers say (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

  • Lesbians' 'divorce' in Iowa targeted | A group of Iowa lawmakers and a conservative group are pursuing legal action against a state district judge, despite his revision of a "divorce" decree he gave two Iowa lesbians to end their Vermont civil union (The Washington Times)

  • Religion news in brief | Pope's message to the persecuted; Vietnamese monk kills himself to call for religious freedom; United Methodist organization honors President Bush; German chancellor, officials differ on religious symbols in schools; Akron authorities turn to religious leaders to help solve killings; South Bend synagogue for sale (Associated Press)

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