Daily briefs of the top Christian news and persecution stories impacting believers around the world.
In today's edition:
Russians Pray for Rain as Churches Collect Aid
California Judge Lifts Stay, Permits Gays to Marry
Joni and Friends Disability Courses Gaining Popularity
Youth Pastor Places His One-Of-A Kind ‘Han Solo' Desk Up For Sale
Russians Pray for Rain as Churches Collect Aid
The Russian Orthodox Church is praying for relief from the heat and drought that has gripped Russia for two months, as one archbishop condemned some retailers for profiteering from the extreme weather conditions. In a pastoral letter released on Aug. 1, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church had called for continuous prayers and special churchwide collections. Monks at the Svyato-Nikolo-Tikhonovsky Monastery urged that water be blessed in churches and used on the fires, the Interfax news agency reported. "The blessed water, together with the help of aviation and other means ... must be sprinkled over burning forests and villages," the monks appealed. In Voronezh, a region hit by some of the worst forest fires that have swept across Russia, Metropolitan Sergius held a prayer service on Aug. 9 to beg God for rain before devotees of St. Mitrofan started a five-day procession around the region by car with the saint's relics. The Russian Orthodox Church has raised more than $200,000 for victims of the fires and draught, the Moscow Patriarchate's website said. Smog generated by the fires enveloped Moscow for more than a week, exacerbating the impact of the heat wave that has suffocated the Russian capital since June. Priests at Moscow churches without air conditioning said that despite the heat and smoke the number of worshippers had not declined beyond the usual summer drop-off. "People are not complaining," the Rev. Sergei Rybko told Interfax.
California Judge Lifts Stay, Permits Gays to Marry Religion News Service reports that same-sex couples can begin marrying in California again on Aug. 18 after a federal judge lifted a stay on his recent ruling that struck down California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. "Based on the trial record, which establishes that Proposition 8 violates plaintiffs' equal protection and due process rights, the court cannot conclude that proponents have shown a likelihood of success on appeal," wrote U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in a closely watched order that was issued Thursday (Aug. 12). The Alliance Defense Fund, which had argued for keeping the stay that was issued with Walker's original Aug. 4 decision, said it would appeal on behalf of ProtectMarriage.com. "This case has just begun, and ADF and the rest of the legal team are confident that the right of Americans to protect marriage in their state constitutions will ultimately be upheld," said Jim Campbell, an ADF lawyer. "It makes no sense to impose a radical change in marriage on the people of California before all appeals on their behalf are heard."
Joni and Friends Disability Courses Gaining Popularity Studies in the area of disability and suffering have long been neglected in academia, according to Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability (CID). The group founded by Christian author and disability advocate Joni Eareckson Tada, has set out to change that, and is succeeding in creating a movement in this field. "We just completed our largest course yet, called ‘Beyond Suffering,' and are looking at expanding to two summer sessions next year," said course instructor and CID Managing Director Steve Bundy. "Our goal is to transform the view many Christians have about disability ministry," Bundy continues. "We're finding a hunger among the students, as well as leaders, to understand God's plan for suffering, which is creating a grass-roots disability ministry movement around the world. This year alone we've led courses in seven countries." "For Joni," says Mark Earley, on the daily radio program BreakPoint with Chuck Colson, "helping create better access and equal opportunities for the disabled was never about political correctness or government expansion. It was about something that goes much deeper than that: shaping a society that reflects and embraces the God-given value of each human being. It's about demonstrating in practical terms what it means to honor, respect, and care for the ones Jesus might have called ‘the least of these my brethren'-the ones who need a little assistance from the rest of us."
Youth Pastor Places His One-Of-A Kind ‘Han Solo' Desk Up For Sale Mark Hall, lead singer of Casting Crowns, is known for his talent as a songwriter and his passion for teen and family ministry. But the acclaimed frontman of the 41st Annual GMA Dove Awards "Artist of the Year" recently revealed an interest few may know about: Star Wars. The self-professed Star Wars fanatic is using his interest to help children and families around the world, as he places several objects from his extensive, personal Star Wars memorabilia collection up for sale at this week's Star Wars Celebration V convention in Orlando, Fla. All proceeds will go to World Vision, the child advocacy organization Casting Crowns has partnered with since 2003. "I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid, and my son and I have been collecting memorabilia for several years," says Hall. "Now I'm teaching our son that God doesn't bless us so we can merely have; He blesses us so we can give." Hall, and Crowns' guitar player Juan DeVevo, will make a special appearance at Star Wars Celebration V today to experience the convention and drive buyers to Hall's unique Star Wars items. The items showcased include the one-of-a-kind, custom-designed "Han Solo" desk, an "Emperor" chair and several Star Wars themed paintings