250 Million Christians Face Persecution in '07

The latest summary of the world's persecution hotspots by the watchdog group Release International indicates that as many as 250 million Christians worldwide will face persecution and repression in 2007 because of their faith in Jesus. The report, published in the U.K. magazine Inspire, found four distinct "zones" where most persecution takes place: Islam, Communism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However, persecution is growing fastest in the Islamic world.

Release sees Saudi Arabia as a great example of this. "There's a conspiracy of silence around Saudi," said Release Chief Executive Officer Andy Dipper, "probably because the West wants their oil and their money. But this is a government that hands out the death sentence for its own citizens who want nothing more than the freedom to choose their own faith. And while Saudi Arabia bans all Christian literature, it spends billions of dollars each year propagating Islam around the world." Meanwhile, communist persecution of Christians continues in China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea. Christians in India and Nepal face persecution by Hindus, and in the Buddhist world, Christians face persecution in Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

97% of Protestant Churches Claim Some Involvement In Evangelism

Projections from a recent survey of 811 American pastors indicate that 97% of all Protestant churches say they are involved in some sort of activity specifically for the purpose of evangelism. The most common method revealed in the study was vacation Bible school, which was employed by 70% of all churches.

Other methods of evangelism were highly diverse and tended to run along denominational lines. For instance, Southern Baptists prefer revivals while Pentecostal churches are more likely to employ concerts.

While evangelism percentages soared, community outreach activities were often neglected, especially among non-mainline denominations. Mainline churches (Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian) tend to offer a wider variety of community programs not necessarily involving evangelism. That would include activities such as daycare services, food pantry and food collection, prison ministries, blood drives, or Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts. Other churches tended to put a lower priority on community outreach.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research who conducted the study, felt it odd that so many community needs were not met with churches reaching out. "This lack of priority takes many forms," Sellers said. "The congregation isn't interested, the community doesn't want our help, we want to focus on our own people-yet if churches are not consistently reaching outside their own walls, how are they to grow?"

Religion Today/Baptist Press/Agape Press via MissionNet

Islamic Hatred for Cross Dooms "X" In Saudi Arabia

A group of Islamic clergy in Saudi Arabia has condemned the letter "X" because it is similar to the cross, a hated symbol which is banned in that country. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has issued a fatwa (religious edict) against the "X."

The issue arose in response to inquiries about granting Saudi businessman Amru Mohammad Faisal trademark protection for a new service with the English name Explorer. "Experts who examined the English word explorer' were struck by how suspicious that X' appeared," wrote Youssef Ibrahim in an article published by the New York Sun. "In a kingdom where Friday preachers routinely refer to Christians as pigs and infidel crusaders, even a twisted cross ranks as an abomination." In response to the turndown, Faisal wrote an article that appeared on several Arabian Websites, sarcastically suggesting that the authorities might consider banning the "+" sign in mathematics because of its similarity to the cross.

WorldWide Religious News via MissionNet

Korean Is Martyred For Passing Bibles

World Bible Translation Center's U.S. office received a report Jan. 8 that a North Korean evangelist has been executed for possessing and distributing Korean New Testaments. According to early reports, the texts, which were bound in a simple one-color cover, became recognizable to North Korean authorities. Details are sketchy regarding the nature and circumstances of the evangelist's death. WBTC was attempting to gather additional information. There are many reports of the persecution of Christians in North Korea. Those who possess or distribute the Bible are subject to a minimum sentence of 13 years and a maximum sentence of death. WBTC is working with missionaries to put the Korean Scriptures in other formats that will not be recognizable as Scripture. A spokesman said: "WBTC is doing everything possible to protect the courageous women and men who are willing to put their lives on the line for God's work."

From WBTC's Web page

Study: House Church More Satisfying Than Traditional Church

A recent Barna Group study may shed light on the growth of the house church movement in the U.S. The national study compared the satisfaction level of those who attend independent, nondenominational house churches with those who attend conventional churches. Overall, house church attendees were significantly more likely to be "completely satisfied" with their experience. The study compared four dimensions of the church experience: satisfaction with leadership, satisfaction with the commitment of other attendees, satisfaction with the level of community and personal connectedness, and satisfaction with the spiritual depth they experience. Two-thirds of house church attendees (68%) were "completely satisfied" with the leadership of their church, compared to only half of those attending a conventional church (49%). Similar ratios of satisfaction levels were revealed in all four dimensions. The research also found two groups being attracted to house churches. The older participants, largely from the Baby Boomer population, are Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers. The other segment consists of young adults who are interested in faith and spirituality but have little interest in the traditional forms of church.

The Barna Group/Religion Today via MissionNet

Amniotic Cells Could Replace Embryonic For Many Purposes

The finding that stem cells found in amniotic fluid have many properties of embryonic stem cells could alter the debate on the controversial research by giving scientists another source of cells that don't involve the destruction of human life to obtain. Researchers from Wake Forest University say the amniotic cells have the ability to grow into brain, muscle, fat, bone and other tissues and could be used to treat a plethora of diseases and medical conditions. The cells are shed into the fluid by the developing unborn child and can easily be retrieved during prenatal testing, the scientists said. Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine told the Washington Post, "They grow fast, as fast as embryonic stem cells, and they show great pluripotentiality," which means they can become various types of tissues. They are also easier to maintain in a laboratory than embryonic stem cells and don't pose some of the same transplant concerns that embryonic stem cells do. The embryonic cells, which can only be obtained by destroying a days-old unborn child, have caused tumors when injected into animals in experiments. Atala also explained that the amniotic stem cells are neither adult nor embryonic, but something in-between that has some of the properties of both. Because the amniotic stem cells are a genetic match to the unborn baby, tissue grown in a lab from them will not be rejected if used to treat medical problems the child has, the Wake Forest scientists explained. The cells could also be frozen and used in later life.

JESUS' Film Records 55 Languages in 06, More to Come in 07

The JESUS Film Project's impact continues to grow each year with view numbers now in the billions, says Chief of Staff Greg Gregoire. "We've gone over 970 languages of the JESUS' film during 2006. We were able to record an additional 55 languages." In addition, the team did 11 translations of "The Story of Jesus for Children." Each new language costs about $35,000 to complete.

This year the JESUS Film Project hopes to multiply the number of teams showing the film in India and Africa. "Right now we've got 2,300 film teams," Gregoire said. "But we'd like those film teams to become the equippers of lay film teams. In order to do that we need to provide more equipment."

Although the "JESUS" film is now the most widely watched, translated, and distributed film in the world, there is still much to be done. "We still have another 500 languages to go. Most of those do not have Scripture in their language," Gregoire added. "So we're relying upon our translator partners to get into those areas and establish relationships, and at minimum get Luke translated so we can do the JESUS' film."

Mission Network News

Federal Judge Allows Religion in Care for Vets

AgapePress reports a federal judge has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs' use of religion in treating ailing veterans does not violate separation of church and state. Judge John Shabaz dismissed a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and defended the agency's practices, saying religion can help patients heal and is legal as long as it's voluntary. The lawsuit challenged the V-A's practice of asking patients questions about faith, such as how often they attend church and how important religion is in their lives. The suit also targeted V-A substance abuse programs that include religion and the integration of chaplains into patient care. The Freedom From Religion Foundation said it would appeal the judge's ruling.

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