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North Korea, Jehovah's Witnesses, West Africa & Seminarians

North Korea, Jehovah's Witnesses, West Africa & Seminarians

In Today's Edition:
  • North Korea Tops Open Doors' World Watch List"
  • Four-Country Tour by CWS Peace Delegation Prompts Aid to West African Refugees
  • Ousted Members Contend Jehovah's Witnesses' Abuse Policy Hides Offenses
  • Shortage of Pastors Looming as Seminarians Rethink their Calling

North Korea Tops Open Doors' World Watch List

(ANS) -- For the first time, North Korea has replaced Saudi Arabia as the country where Christians are most severely persecuted, according to the "World Watch List" released on Aug. 12 by Open Doors. The semi-annual World Watch List ranks countries according to the level of persecution Christians face for following Jesus Christ.

For years, Saudi Arabia has held the top spot on the list. The desert kingdom, which sees itself as the guardian of Islam and its sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, requires all its citizens to be Muslims. A Saudi who converts to another religion faces the death penalty for apostasy.

But growing evidence of severe oppression in North Korea has confirmed what many observers have believed for years, that the communist dictatorship of Kim Jong Il stops at nothing to eradicate all belief systems other than the worship of Kim himself and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung. Both father and son have made every attempt to purge the land of Christians.

Ranked third on the list is the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, where government authorities accuse Christians of causing religious division. Officials make every effort to tightly control Christian activities, including holding indoctrination classes to re-educate believers.

Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia round out the top ten, listed respectively in order of their ranking. Six of the top ten countries are governed by Islamic regimes. One - Bhutan - is predominately Buddhist, and three - Laos, Vietnam and Turkmenistan - are communist-ruled.

Included on the list, from Nos. 11-25, are: Iran, China, Sudan (government controlled areas), Myanmar (Burma), Egypt, Azerbaijan, Nigeria (North), Yemen, Comoros, Colombia, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Brunei and Morocco. China is home to possibly the world's largest number of Christians, numbering between 60-90 million with an estimated 10,000-25,000 converts a day.

Rounding out the list are Nos. 26-50: Tunisia, Iraq, Russian Federation (the Muslim republics of Chechnya, Kabardino, Balkarya and Dagestan), Libya, Tajikistan, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Turkey, Mexico (State of Chiapas), United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Kurdistan, Oman, Mauritania, Algeria, Malaysia, Syria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Kenya (Northeast) and Belarus.

Four-Country Tour by CWS Peace Delegation Prompts aid to West African Refugees

(CWS) -- The findings of a just-completed Church World Service (CWS) peace delegation to West Africa are already galvanizing emergency response to the troubled region by the international humanitarian aid agency and its partners. Led by the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS executive director, the delegation immersed itself in the people's struggles and hopes in a region battered by poverty and civil wars that have spilled refugees across one another's borders.

Open conflict between rebel and government forces in Liberia has sent tens of thousands of Liberians fleeing for safety across the border to Sierra Leone in recent weeks. Based on the immediate needs the delegation reported from its visit July 2-18, CWS is shipping more than $100,000 in supplies for Liberian refugees in and around Freetown, Sierra Leone. The shipment includes CWS blankets, health and baby kits along with additional supplies donated by CWS partner Lutheran World Relief.

Concurrently, CWS is seeking to raise an additional $100,000 to support the efforts of CWS partners, including the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL), the United Brethren in Christ and the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone, in caring for this new influx of refugees. Funds raised also will help Sierra Leoneans displaced during that country's devastating, 11-year civil war get back on their feet. The war ended in January, 2002.

An estimated 25,000 Liberians have entered Sierra Leone since January. As many as 500 border crossings an hour have been reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), fleeing the conflict between Liberian government forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Reports by the CWS delegation and other sources say many of the Liberian refugees and Sierra Leone's own returnees are ill, require medical attention, and some are in severe need of food.


Ousted Members Contend Jehovah's Witnesses' Abuse Policy Hides Offenses

The New York Times reports that a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed to be abused, but that the church hierarchy has hidden the offenses. According to the Times, former Witnesses say the church's “policies and culture conspire to conceal abuse.” The church elders reportedly meet “in secret” to decide each case, a procedure that usually keeps members from knowing there is an abuser in the congregation.

The report says that in the past three months, five people have been expelled from the Jehovah's Witnesses after accusing it of covering up the sexual abuse of children by its members. For critics of church policies on sexual abuse, “the expulsions are part of a concerted effort to keep such abuses quiet,” says the Times.

Meanwhile, the director of the public information office at church headquarters, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, in Brooklyn, said the church had “exemplary policies for handling sexual abuse, which were based on biblical standards and had been widely published in church magazines.”

According to the New York Times, the Jehovah's Witnesses is comprised of congregations who are “often collections of extended families and church elders are chosen from among the laypeople, some of those accused are elders, but most are congregation members. The victims who have stepped forward are mostly girls and young women, and many accusations involve incest.”

Shortage of Pastors Looming as Seminarians Rethink their Calling

From Associated Baptist Press -- Shane Hipps is a 27-year old student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He is studying for a master of divinity degree, the credential typically sought by prospective pastors. Yet Hipps hesitates when asked if he will follow that traditional route into ministry. "I have been told by those closest to me that I'd make a good pastor, and I can see some gifting that would indicate this, but I'm extremely cautious about such a vocation," he said in an e-mail interview with the Christian lifestyle magazine FaithWorks.

Hipps came to seminary from Minneapolis, where he worked in advertising for about four years after college. "I sensed a clear call to leave advertising, and I'm pretty sure I'm called to be in seminary. But that's as clear as it gets right now," he said. "Seminary is primarily an opportunity to pursue God's call on my life ... and not necessarily vocational training."

Hipps isn't alone. Less than a third of seminary students intend to minister in congregations, according to a study by Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. It's common to hear people confess to being afraid that if they answer a call to ministry, God might send them to Africa as a missionary. But, as jarring as it sounds, more and more spiritually sensitive and creative young Christians are now more frightened that God will ask them to be pastor of the church on the suburban corner. The result, say researchers and seminary leaders, is an impending pastor shortage.

The impact is already being felt. For all denominations surveyed by the Alban Institute, the number of ministers under 35 has fallen precipitously since the 1970s -- dropping by at least half and for some two thirds. Seminaries and other organizations concerned for the future of the church are studying and discussing these trends. They cite a litany of negatives -- the prospect of low pay, exhausting job demands and dwindling social respect -- that make the pastorate so unattractive to young adults. Some highly publicized scandals involving ministers only make matters worse.

Mitchell said many idealistic and innovative Christians who might otherwise become pastors are instead starting small businesses and non-profit organizations that give them opportunities to encounter people different from themselves.