Religion Today Summaries, December 3, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, December 3, 2003

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:

  • Bible Teacher Issues 'Call for Conversion' to Arafat
  • British Methodists Urged to Forgo Christmas Trees to Aid Third World
  • Communist China Continues Persecuting Underground Churches
  • Pope Marks Opening of Advent Season With Appeal for Peace in the World

Bible Teacher Issues 'Call for Conversion' to Arafat
Charisma News Service

An American Bible teacher recently shared Christ with Yasser Arafat - the second time R.T. Kendall has witnessed to the Palestinian leader in the last year. On Nov. 20, Kendall, an internationally known speaker and author, met with the 74-year-old Palestinian president at Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Kendall, minister at famed Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years until his retirement last year, recalled telling Arafat: "It has been revealed to me that Jesus Christ is very important to you." Arafat reportedly replied: "Very, very important." Kendall began praying for Arafat daily in 1982 after hearing cross-carrying evangelist Arthur Blessitt talk about his visit with the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Kendall said: "I want you to confess that Jesus actually died on the cross for your sins." A translator interrupted Kendall, objecting to his "call for conversion." "But Arafat lifted his hand to the translator," Kendall said. After he explained to Arafat the benefits of becoming a Christian, Kendall noted that the translator objected again to his call for conversion. "I replied, 'I am only trying to get him to go public with what he already believes,'" Kendall, 67, noted. "I said to Arafat, 'Nothing else has worked. Peace will not come through a military or political solution.'"

British Methodists Urged to Forgo Christmas Trees to Aid Third World
Robert Nowell, Religion News Service

The Methodist Relief and Development Fund of Great Britain is asking people this year to forego buying a Christmas tree and instead to buy trees for Christmas to help small farmers in Africa and Asia.  The agency's tree-planting project is one of a range of sustainable agricultural development projects it is supporting. Planting trees can prevent soil erosion and help to improve the soil's organic content, which in turn helps to preserve moisture in the soil and thus increase vegetation cover and crop yields.  In making its appeal the Methodist agency says that a donation of just $8.50 will enable a small farmer to raise and plant a dozen trees, while 10 times that amount will support a community tree nursery during the long dry season lasting for between seven and nine months.  Meanwhile $34 will pay for six locally made watering cans so that several households can water their vegetable gardens and tree nurseries.

Communist China Continues Persecuting Underground Churches
Allie Martin, Agape Press

Officials with the Chinese government have shut down 125 churches as part of a continuing crackdown on religious activity outside the control of the communist regime. The crackdown began in July and has cut off about 3,000 Christians in China from places of worship. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs says China may claim that it is tolerant of religious expression, but the facts prove otherwise. "The Chinese government wants to be open towards Christians who are willing to come under control of the government. They expect Protestant Christians to worship as part of the ... state-approved Protestant Church organization there," Nettleton says. The spokesman notes that since the official Christian churches in China are restricted in doctrine and practice, the majority of Chinese Christians participate in underground churches. However, he says the Chinese government considers all Christian churches outside the official government-controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) to be subversive. The house church movement in China, which comprises approximately 90% of the nation's Christians, faces unimaginable persecution but remains committed to preaching the gospel.  China's government puts more Christians in prison or under detention than any other country and confiscates loads of church property and Bibles -- even official, government-printed Bibles.

Pope Marks Opening of Advent Season with Appeal for Peace in the World
Peggy Polk, Religion News Service

Pope John Paul II on Sunday marked the opening of the liturgical season of Advent leading to Christmas with a renewed appeal for peace in the world. "The world has great need for this peace," the 83-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff told pilgrims Sunday (Nov. 30) before leading the midday Angelus prayer from his study window overlooking St. Peter's Square. "I think in a special way with deep sorrow of the latest episodes of violence in the Middle East and on the African continent," John Paul said. "I renew my appeal to the leaders of the great religions: Let us join forces in praying for non-violence, pardon and reconciliation."  John Paul spoke of peace again Monday in a brief address to a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris. Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder, presented the pope with its Humanitarian Award for 2003 in recognition of his "lifelong friendship toward the Jewish people."  "In these difficult times," the pontiff said, "let us pray that all peoples everywhere will be strengthened by their commitment to mutual understanding, reconciliation and peace."