Churches respond to California fires
When fires swept through Harbison Canyon near San Diego on October 25 and 26, they destroyed almost half of the roughly 450 homes in the community. Though the fire destroyed his own home, pastor Mark Mueller of Emmanuel Christian Church, the canyon's only church, worked with community leaders to counsel people, provide temporary shelter, and help people rebuild their lives.
Although 9 of the congregation's 25 families lost their homes, Emmanuel joined Skyline Wesleyan Church to set up a relief camp and provide food and water. Several larger churches, including Shadow Mountain Community Church, adopted other area communities and committed to rebuilding Emmanuel Christian's chapel.
The assistance has been an opportunity for evangelism. "The fact that the larger body of Christ came in and lent so much help is showing people the side of Christianity some of them didn't know about," Mueller said.
First Baptist Church of Mira Mesa saw flames as close as a half-mile away. On October 29, between the first and second service, church members took food planned for a pastor appreciation lunch to the Mira Mesa shelter.
The wildfires across Southern California killed 22 people, destroyed more than 3,600 homes, and left charred an area comparable in size to Rhode Island.
Rob Moll, with Baptist Press
'Ten Commandments judge' ousted
Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice who defied a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument in the state court building rotunda, has been removed from office.
On November 13 Alabama's Court of the Judiciary voted Moore out after weighing ethics charges argued by Attorney General Bill Pryor, who prosecuted Moore. "I did my duty," said Pryor, whose nomination to a federal judgeship is stalled by Senate Democrats. "I will lose no sleep over this."
The decision hinged not on the legality of the Ten Commandments display but on Moore's defiance of a judicial order. "In defying that court's order, the chief justice placed himself above the law," said Chief Judge William C. Thompson.
Moore installed the 5,300-pound monument in the judicial building in August 2001. Two years later, he publicly declared he would not remove it even though a district court had ruled he should. An appeals court had affirmed the lower court ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to hear his case.
Moore has promised to appeal the decision. "We fought a good fight," he said. "We kept the faith. But the battle is not over. The battle to acknowledge God is about to rage across the country."
Religion News Service
Ponzi scheme snares charismatic leaders
Benny Hinn and German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke are reportedly among several Christian leaders bilked of more than $160 million dollars. The FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Texas State Securities Board accused an organization called IPIC International and five individuals—including Torsten Henschke, former executive director of Bonnke's Christ for All Nations ministry—of running a massive Ponzi scheme.
"The defendants deceived investors, promising to generate investment returns that would benefit Christian ministries through merchandising and manufacturing businesses," the SEC says in a press release. "But in fact, according to the Commission, the defendants invested little, if any, of the investors' money in that way, and instead used it to make ponzi payments to other investors and support their own extravagant lifestyles by purchasing items such as homes, a [$2.3 million] yacht, and a [$1 million] helicopter."
The SEC said members of the ministries, not the ministries themselves, lost money. However, an SEC attorney said, "There's a good chance we can get something back" for those defrauded.
Worries over rights in Afghanistan, Iraq
Human-rights activists are expressing serious reservations about the status of religious liberties in largely Muslim Afghanistan and Iraq, recently freed from tyrannical regimes by U.S.-led coalition forces.
"Contrary to reports in the international media, the new Afghan draft constitution fails to protect the fundamental human rights of individual Afghans, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, in accordance with international standards," the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in November.
Chairman Michael K. Young said, "The draft threatens to institutionalize a 'Taliban lite' state where appointed judges are given the unchecked authority to ensure that all laws conform to their interpretation of Islam."
The 500-member Constitutional Loya Jirga debated the draft in December. Democratic elections are scheduled for June.
Iraq, meanwhile, appears likely to become an Islamic republic. Sources in the U.S. Department of State say they will compensate by pushing for laws that will guarantee religious freedom. Press reports indicate that the Iraqi Governing Council has a significant percentage of Islamists seeking to make the country an Islamic state.
A new constitution will be drafted in the coming months. At a Senate hearing in October, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) asked civilian administrator Paul Bremer whether Iraq would be a secular democracy. Bremer replied that "the Iraqis are writing this constitution, not me." Said one administration official, who requested anonymity, "Who is Bremer referring to, the Islamists he stacked the council with?"
Partnership agency to close doors
Seattle-based Interdev (formerly the International Development Agency) announced in November that it will close its doors. Founded in 1974, the agency, which has a $1.4 million annual budget, promoted financial and strategic partnerships between Western missions agencies and non-Western groups. Interdev linked 500 agencies and churches and contributed to the founding or growth of 300 partnerships among the "world's least reached peoples," including 78 "strategic evangelism partnerships."
President Gary Walsh and Interdev's Board of Trustees say they plan to "bring the organization to an honorable close as soon as possible."
The organization said in a statement, "Thanking God for these remarkable years of facilitating the birth of the partnership movement, the Board has recognized that the 'idea' has outgrown the need for the organization."
Interdev is turning over responsibility for its projects to a new, smaller entity—Interdev Partnership Advisors. Interdev estimates there are 450 agencies in partnerships in dozens of countries.
Persecution in Eritrea
Government authorities in Eritrea confiscated and sealed the complex of the Full Gospel Church in the capital city of Asmara during October. Authorities ordered church staff and members to evacuate the building permanently. The complex had served as the Full Gospel Church's main headquarters and meeting place for 11 years.
Meanwhile, officials are holding 22 female and 63 male soldiers for carrying Bibles with them at a Sawa summer military camp, among other offenses. Twelve young evangelicals from Asmara's Dubre Bethel Church were arrested during a house prayer meeting on September 7. They are refusing to sign a denial of their faith to gain their release. A total of 334 evangelical Christians is known to be jailed for their faith in Eritrea.
- Scott Bauer, senior pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, died October 24 from a brain aneurysm. Bauer, 49, was the son-in-law of the 13,000-member church's founding pastor, Jack Hayford.
- David Leander Stitt, president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary from 1946 to 1971, died on October 3, two days before his 91st birthday, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Stitt died of heart failure.
- Bedridden with a variety of ailments, Larry Ward, founder of the international relief and development agency Food for the Hungry, died October 25. He was 78. Ward served as managing editor for Christianity Today when it was founded in 1956, as well as for Christian Life and World Vision magazines.
- William Ackerman, director of The Bible League from 1951 to 1985, died of natural causes September 30.
- Four professors at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the largest Southern Baptist seminary, have resigned from the Fort Worth, Texas, school and on January 1 became faculty members of the new B. H. Carroll Theological Institute. Former leaders of the seminary started the new school. Bruce Corley, formerly a New Testament professor at Southwestern, has been named president.
- In September CSB Ministries (formerly Christian Service Brigade), a Wheaton, Illinois-based ministry to youth, appointed Donald Paterson as president. Paterson has served in senior positions at World Vision and Awana Clubs.
- Steven Macchia, former president of Vision New England, was named in September as director of the Pierce Center for Disciple-Building at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
- On November 1, Geoff Tunnicliffe joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as director of Global Initiatives. He continues as a member of the World Evangelical Alliance's Missions Commission.
- Haruun Ruun, executive secretary of the New Sudan Council of Churches, received the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award from the American Swedish Historical Society during a November ceremony in Philadelphia. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat during World War II who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps.
- In November Baptist theologian Davorin Peterlin of Croatia was named president of the Keston Institute, which monitors the church in the former Soviet Union. Director Larry Uzzell resigned in December 2002, citing "irreconcilable disagreements" with members of the Keston Council
- Stephen E. Burger, executive director of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, has been elected chairman of the City Mission World Association, based in Sydney, Australia. City Mission World assists agencies through networking and promotional strategies.
- James F. Plueddemann, international director of sim International, completed 10 years of leadership in November. He joined the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Malcolm McGregor, former director of sim-U.K., succeeds him at SIM.
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