East Africa Faces Horrific Famine

World Vision's relief staff in East Africa fears that at least five countries in the region may be heading for a catastrophic famine not seen since the mid-1980s. The most affected countries include Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi. Six additional nearby countries are also suffering from a long-term food crisis that has been complicated by drought. Reports from the region suggest that 37 million people are already suffering from critical hunger and another 162 million are malnourished. World Vision U.S. Africa Director David Scheiman said that although the world has yet to see the horrific scenes witnessed in Ethiopia in 1984, millions are on the verge of starvation. "A lot of people are malnourished and weak. They have already lost or sold their animals. They don't have a coping mechanism," he said. Lack of media interest in the tragedy has made it difficult to raise funds for relief efforts. "The press is not engaged because as yet there are no images of extreme starvation," Scheiman explained. "But if we don't deal with it now, it could happen."

World Vision via MissionNet

Christianity Growth in Japan Is "Stunning"

A Gallup poll has yielded some surprising statistics on Japanese attitudes toward religion, morality, and spirituality. The findings from one of the most extensive surveys of the country showed an overall Christian population of 6%—a number much higher than reported in previous surveys. Of the 30% of adults surveyed who claimed to have a religion, 75% considered themselves Buddhists, 19% Shintoists, while 12% considered themselves to be Christians. Of the 20% of the youth who professed to have a religion, 60% called themselves Buddhists, 36% Christians and followers of the traditionally dominant Japanese religion, Shinto. Calling the numbers "stunning," George Gallup, Jr., who assisted with the poll, noted of teenagers: "These projections mean that 7% of the total teenage population say they are Christians," he said.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Gaza Bible Society Center Shuttered

The Palestinian Bible Society has temporarily closed down its center and bookshop in Gaza City after it came under a bombing threat, said its acting secretary general, Nashat Filmon. Unknown masked gunmen distributed pamphlets on Palestine Square in Gaza City in February threatening to blow up the building housing the Bible Society if it did not close down before February 28. In February two small pipe bombs exploded at the entrance of the center, causing damage but no injuries. The Bible Society's center in Bir Zeit on the West Bank was also attacked in March, with militants breaking windows and attempting to set its student facility on fire. The Palestinian Bible Society has seven centers in East-Jerusalem and the areas of the Palestinian Authority, Filmon said. A center in Nablus was closed several years ago due to a tense political situation. The center in Bir Zeit will remain open. Filmon asked for prayer for protection for the team and the work of the Palestinian Bible Society. "We know that danger is around us, but we are still working."

Religion Today Summaries

More Seminarians Decline the Pulpit

Across the country, enrollment is up at Protestant seminaries, but a shrinking portion of the graduates will ascend the pulpit. Assist News, citing a New York Times story, indicates that these seminarians are less interested in making a career of religion than in taking their religion into other careers. Those from mainline denominations are being drawn to a wide range of fields from academia to social service to hospital chaplaincy, said Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Students who are evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, often end up at advocacy groups, sometimes called parachurches. Only about half of those graduating with a Master in Divinity now enter parish ministry, Aleshire said. The portion has fallen sharply in a generation, and declined 10 to 15 percentage points in the last five years alone.

Religion Today Summaries

Churches in Mexico Growing Rapidly

Attendance at Protestant churches in Mexico continues to multiply, led by evangelical churches such as the Universal Kingdom of God Church which runs the Sanctuary of Faith, a congregation of 1,600 in Mexico City.

Protestants accounted for 8 percent of Mexico's believers in the 2000 census, up from 2.3 percent in 1970, and their numbers are growing at a rate of 3.7 percent each year, twice as fast as the Catholic population, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information Processing. The churches are winning converts through a mix of social programs, charismatic preachers, and stirring music.

Many of the new evangelical churches have their roots in Central or South America. The Universal Kingdom of God church started in Brazil. As congregations grow, many of the larger churches are setting their sights on Mexicans living in the U.S. The Interdenominational Christian Church of Mexico, for example, has congregations in nine U.S. cities. The Universal Kingdom of God Church has 34 Spanish-speaking churches in California, 11 in Florida and one in Nevada.

WorldWide Religious News/Arizona Republic via MissionNet

Luis Palau Festival Draws 400,000+ In Costa Rica

The Luis Palau ministry teamed with major Latin American entertainers, over 18,000 volunteers and more than 800 churches to bring the Costa Rica Festival with Luis Palau to the national capital of San Jose in mid-March. Christian Wire Service reported that official crowd estimates put the attendance at over 401,000 people during a week of outreach events that was capped with historic crowds at the city's famed Parque de la Paz. Evangelist and author Palau shared the gospel message at gatherings during the week-long outreach that included women's groups, clergy, and political and business leaders. During the weekend, his Children's Festival attracted over 35,000 kids and families, and the evening productions drew 160,000 on Friday and 205,000 on Saturday. Palau's first major event in Costa Rica was in the early 1970s, and many of the Costa Ricans who heard him then are now active in the church community there.

Christian Wire Service via Religion Today Summaries

New York City Is Abortion Capital

In 2004, 74 abortions were performed for every 100 babies born in New York City. According to the city's Department of Health, more than 92,000 of the 227,000 pregnancies recorded in 2004 ended in abortion—a 40% abortion rate in a nation where the number of abortions per pregnancy is 24%. Statewide, the 164,000 abortions performed roughly equals one-third of the population of Wyoming. Ten percent of all U.S. abortions are done in New York and 70% of those are in New York City. There are more abortions performed on teen girls, more repeat abortions, and more abortions performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy in New York City than anywhere else in the nation. via Life in Oregon

Moral Films Again Show More Profit

Hollywood movies that positively portray faith and values continue to earn significantly more money than those displaying explicit and immoral themes, said Movieguide Publisher Ted Baehr in his latest annual report. Movies reflecting positive moral and religious standards earned an average of $45 million at the box office in 2005, 65 percent more than those reflecting negative standards which averaged only $27.3 million. "This study proves what movies Americans really prefer," he said. "Hollywood executives take notice. If you focus on traditional faith and family values, your movies will earn at least an average of $18 million more at the box office." Baehr also found that movies with strong Christian worldviews and strong moral worldviews averaged $65 million and $62.5 million respectively—almost three times as much as movies with strong non-Christian, anti-biblical, anti-Semitic and immoral worldviews, averaging $23.7 million. Movies rated G or PG earned an average of $43 million, 192% more than R-rated movies which averaged only $14.7 million in 2005.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

$4 Million+ Raised In Souper Bowl

Nearly 10,000 religious organizations have reported raising more than $4.1 million this year for charity through a project called the Souper Bowl of Caring, which coincided with the Super Bowl. It is a faith-based crusade against hunger led by young people who collect donations in soup pots as churchgoers leave services on the Sunday of the Super Bowl, according to Danielle Haugh, public relations coordinator for the project.

Each group of youths sent the donated money directly to the charity of their choice and simply was asked to report the total sum to the Souper Bowl of Caring officials.

Since the program began in a South Carolina church in 1990 and then spread nationwide, young people have raised a total of at least $32 million.

Baptist Press

AIDS-Ravaged Swaziland Seeks Orphan Sponsors

Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) has announced the inauguration of Young Heroes, a program through which people around the world can sponsor orphan families in Swaziland with monthly donations of food and clothing.  UNICEF estimates that more than 70,000 children in the country's population of 1 million have already lost at least one parent. "Our greatest desire is to encourage young people with advantages to help their peers who have little or nothing," said NERCHA Director Derek von Wissell. A crucial goal of Young Heroes is to keep families together on their homesteads and in their communities where they have the most security and are surrounded by a familiar support system.

Religion Today via MissionNet

Pro-Life Protesters Ruled Not Racketeers

Pro-life protesters are not extortionists, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, apparently putting an end to a lengthy legal campaign to convince the judicial system otherwise. The high court ruled Feb. 28 that a federal anti-racketeering law does not apply to protests outside abortion clinics, seemingly bringing closure to a court battle that began nearly 20 years earlier.

Southern Baptist pro-life leader Richard Land said: "It was outrageous to ever have a court suggest that the RICO laws, which were meant to bust racketeers and the Mafia, should be used for pro-life protesters exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of speech."

Baptist Press

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Pulpit, Pew Differ On Tithe to Church

Research results being released for the first time in the March/April edition of Facts & Trends magazine show most Protestant ministers believe Christians are supposed to tithe to their local church but most people in the pews of the local church do not agree with them. Ellison Research conducted one study among Protestant church ministers nationwide and a companion study among those who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. In the study, 56% of all clergy said Christians are under a biblical mandate to give 10% of their income to the local church, However, only 36% of church attendees feel there is a biblical command to tithe to their local church. "What's really sad," said Ellison Research President Ron Sellers, "is that other studies have consistently shown that fewer than one out of 10 actually do that."

Evangelical News/Ellison Research via MissionNet

Churches in UK Continue Decline

Initial findings from the English Church Census, a large-scale survey conducted by Christian Research, an independent organization, show that more churches are closing than opening in the U.K. The Methodist Church suffered a net loss of about 300 churches in the last seven years, and the Church of England fell by more than 100 during this period. This follows figures released by the Church of England at the beginning of the year that showed little sign of its long-term decline being reversed. Despite the losses, more than 1,000 churches opened their doors with the biggest growth being among Pentecostal churches. Christian Research Executive Director Peter Brierley explained that the "losses in the older denominations are faster than the gains in the newer ones." The research organization previously suggested that churches may be heading for "extinction" in England by 2040 with just 2% of the population attending Sunday services, and the average age of congregants rising to 64.

WorldWide Religious News/Ekllesia via MissionNet

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Africa Mercy ShipJoins Mercy Fleet

The international board of Mercy Ships has confirmed that two of the global charity's veteran hospital ships will be retired in mid-2006 as the newest Mercy ship, the Africa Mercy, enters active service. The Mercy Ship Anastasis will sail to Ghana at the end of May to connect with the Africa Mercy and transfer expertise, crew and equipment. The Caribbean Mercy will be retired as well, having finished its tour of duty this winter serving as a base of operations for hurricane relief efforts on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Africa Mercy, which was scheduled to be commissioned in the Port of London in April, will claim the title of the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship and is expected to double the number of direct medical beneficiaries being served by the two ships. The Anastasis has been home to nearly 400 volunteer crew members from 40 nations, some of whom have served onboard for more than 15 years.

Assist News Service

Critical Shortage of Pastors in China

China Partner Ministries' Erik Burklin says there are only 18 official seminaries in China and a critical shortage of trained pastors. "There's about one ordained pastor to every ten thousand believers," he said. China Partner is working with the registered churches and seminaries in China to provide leadership training to future church leaders and pastors. They want to serve the church in China by providing additional training and theological study books to help accelerate this process, according to Burklin. He says they're partnering with the Jiangxi Provincial Bible School. "We have set up a scholarship fund for poor students. This allows that particular school to invite and allow for students in the countryside who normally don't have enough money to be able to get theological training at this Bible school to come and be prepared for ministry." This project provides student scholarships and stipends for alumni serving as pastors, and helps meet specific material needs of the school.

Mission Network News

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