News relevant to the church and faith.
Organisers are expecting a packed stadium in Soweto for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, due to get under way at 11am local time today (10pm NZ time this evening).
Some say the service will be the biggest of its kind in modern history – a massive logistical exercise for the authorities.
More than 100 current and former world leaders are expected to attend the ceremony at the 95,000 capacity soccer stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance.
In New Zealand, memorial services will be held in the three main centres.
The South African High Commission says the official service will be held at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena at midday on Thursday.
Christchurch's cardboard cathedral will hold a public memorial service on Thursday at 5:30pm.
Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, will be joined by the South African High Commissioner to New Zealand and members of the local South African community.
A public condolence book is available at the Christchurch City Council Civic offices, which will later be presented to the High Commissioner.
In Auckland, a service will be held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell at midday on Friday.
- RBG News/NewstalkZ
The Christian community in India is in shock after the senseless murder of a child.
Last week, Gospel for Asia reported that the body of a seven-year-old boy was found the day after he went missing. Evidence of torture, as well as previous threats against his family, indicate young Anmol was killed because of his faith.
The son of a Christian, Anmol was abducted after attending Sunday School at a Believers Church on November 17th in northern India. His father, Harish, reported Anmmol's disappearance the next day; and by that evening the boy's body was found floating in a pond. Autopsy reports showed Anmol had been horribly abused before drowning to death. The identity of the perpetrator(s) remains undisclosed for now.
GFA's international director, K.P. Yohannan, condemned this attack as particularly heinous -
"Persecution of Christians is a weekly occurrence, but this intensity of brutality against a child is unthinkable. In this horrible tragedy, we find strength and hope in Jesus."
At least 200 people attended Anmol's funeral, many of whom became Christian at around the same time that his father Harish did 10 years ago, after his brother was miraculously healed in Jesus' name. Since their conversion, the community of believers has been persecuted over the past decade.
GFA estimates that attacks against Christians in India have more than quadrupled in recent years. The organisation is asking for prayer that believers will be protected, that Anmol’s grieving family may find consolation, and that the persecutors would repent and accept Christ.
- GFA/ RBG News
France is boosting its peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic amidst mounting fears the country could descend into chaos or even genocide,
Since rebels took control of the country in March, violence has increased between the Christian majority and Muslim minority.
African correspondent, Debora Patta, says it is just the latest case of radical Islamism causing unrest on the continent.
She says governments around the world have been unable to deal with the threat of radicalism, but the situation is worse in Africa where countries are vast, wide and full of hiding places for insurgents.
Patta says you never really know where it is going to hit next.
Of the CAR’s 4.4 million people, Christians make up half the population and Muslims 15 per cent.
There are many missionary groups operating in the country, including Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, Grace Brethren, and Jehovah's Witnesses. While these missionaries are predominantly from the United States, France, Italy and Spain, many are also from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African countries.
Missionaries left the country when fighting broke out between rebel and government forces in 2002-3, but many of them have since returned to continue their work
Despite its significant mineral and other resources, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world and is among the ten poorest countries in Africa.
Governance in the CAR has all but disappeared since the overthrow of French-backed General François Bozizé by rebel Seleka militias on March 24th this year. Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, claimed himself President and in September officially disbanded Seleka, but many rebels refused to disarm and veered further out of government control.
The increasing violence is largely from reprisal attacks on civilians from Seleka's mainly Muslim fighters and Christian militias.
According to United Press International, some observers fear the CAR could become a safe haven for the armed groups that proliferate in the region, particularly war-torn, mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.
UPI says fugitive Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, and his Lord's Resistance Army - including child soldiers - are already believed to be using the CAR as a hideout from their pursuers, which include U.S. Special Forces.
The religious aspect of the bloodletting has heightened alarm since the Muslim attacks on Christians reflects similar conflicts involving Islamist militants in Somalia in East Africa, Nigeria in West Africa, as well as from Mauritania eastward along the Mediterranean rim - all linked to al-Qaida or its regional affiliates.
As a thousand French troops head for the Central African Republic, African correspondent, Debora Patta, says conflict on the continent could have global security implications.
She says the focus is moving from Asia to Africa and security experts are expecting more of the same in the months and years to come.
- RBG News/NewstalkZB
There is mixed reaction to the interim nuclear arrangement that Iran has come to with world powers.
Iran has agreed to curb its controversial uranium-enrichment nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions on the regime. President Hassan Rouhani says years of punitive sanctions are starting to crumble; and Iranians are trumpeting the deal between Tehran and six Western governments as a victory for the newly-elected President, who has the support of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in this matter.
President Rouhani is calling it a breakthrough and, coming as it does after a decade of failed diplomacy and rising tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions, New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs tends to agree. Murray McCully says it is the most positive development in 10 years of nuclear talks with Iran. However, he points out there is more work to be done for a long-term solution, as this deal only lasts six months.
Not everyone is celebrating the agreement, dismayed at the human cost. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) declared that today, the United States betrayed one of its own.
ACLJ has been working for more than a year to secure the release of US citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini from Iran. The American Iranian Christian was in the country building orphanages when he was imprisoned in September 2012, purportedly for threatening national security. He spent 13 months in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison and was recently moved to the even worse conditions of Rajai Shahr prison.
ACLJ's legal team had urged that Pastor Saeed's pardon as a pre-condition of negotiations between the US and Iran, and thus found the weekend's agreement to be hypocritical and ironic. A spokesman described it as "reprehensible" that the Obama Administration could agree to provide humanitarian relief to Iran even as Pastor Saeed continues to languish in an Iranian prison for his faith.
In a press release, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow stated that by failing to secure Pastor Saeed's release as a condition of any deal, "the Obama Administration sends a troubling message to the Iranian government that Americans are expendable."
Meanwhile, Pastor Saeed's wife continues to campaign for her husband's release, and pray that God is bringing many people to Himself through the situation. From their home in the US, Naghmeh Abedini has lobbied politicians tirelessly, organised prayer vigils, and shared her personal journey via blogs and social media. While her heartbreak at the latest development is evident, Naghmeh remains unshaken in her belief:
"Obama makes deals with Iran with no mention of Saeed. Although I am extremely disappointed at this administration, my hope and trust is in Jesus. He is still in control." (Naghmeh Abedini, Facebook post)
- RBG News
Attention to events in Syria may have shifted more towards the destruction of chemical weapons rather than the plight of persecuted citizens.
According to one Middle East commentator, media coverage of human atrocities in that country has all but ceased, and the global community has been slow to take note. Raymond Ibrahim says it has been a month since one of the worst Christian massacres, and "the U.S. government and its 'mainstream media' mouthpiece are, as usual, silent (that is, when not actively trying to minimize matters)."
The latest massacre took place over the week from October 21st to 28th, in the small Orthodox Christian town of Sadad, which is home to 15,000 Syrians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on the attack this week, referencing survivors' accounts of murder, torture and execution of residents - including children, women and the elderly - at the hands of Syrian rebels before goverment forces reclaimed the town.
CBN reported that they ostensibly captured key parts of Sadad due to the town's strategic location, but the militants' actions belied their claims. HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said the opposition fighters who invaded and occupied Sadad broke their promises not to harm civilians.
"There is no excuse for indiscriminate or targeted attacks against civilians or civilian sites. Opposition fighters should never execute or directly target civilians or anyone in their custody or target civilian sites, including religious sites."
Sadad is understood to be the ancient town northeast of Canaan referred to in the Old Testament, and one of the few places that Aramaic is still spoken. Raymond Ibrahim says all 14 of Sadad's churches, including historic buildings, were ransacked and destroyed in October's violent occupation by those he describes as "US-supported jihadi rebels".
The information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Agenzia Fides, also reported that the rebels were Islamic militia while CBN linked them to Al Qaeda. Fides say 45 Christians were martyred, estimating 1,500 families in total were terrorised in Sadad for that tragic October week, while 2,500 managed to flee to Damascus, Homs, and other towns.
In September, another ancient Christian town, Ma'loula, was also attacked. Raymond Ibrahim quoted the last words of one man to rebels: "I am a Christian, and if you want to kill me for this, I do not object to it."
Following the most recent massacre, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, had this to say about the lack of support in Sadad's hour of need -
"We have shouted aid to the world but no one has listened to us... I think of all those who are suffering today in mourning and discomfort: We ask everyone to pray for us". (Agenzia Fides)
- RBG News
The Reverend Billy Graham is back in hospital.
Billed 'the spiritual advisor to paupers and presidents', Rev. Graham has had a host of medical conditions, including prostate cancer, pneumonia, and Parkinson's disease. Now, the world renowned evangelist has been admitted to a US hospital with what is described as a respiratory congestion issue.
It is the second time in a month that he has been hospitalised. CWN reports he is expected to be discharged in a couple of days.
The preacher just turned 95 years old at his home in Asheville, North Carolina, earlier this month on November 7th; and he got his birthday wish of sharing the Gospel message with North America. He celebrated his 95th birthday with his country as more than 500 television stations broadcast his 30-minute program, "The Cross", over four days (7-10 Nov), concluding a telecast outreach called My Hope with Billy Graham.
"With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth," Billy Graham told viewers, in what many expect may be his last video message.
A movie about the formation of Rev. Graham's decades-spanning ministry - "Billy: The Early Years" - will air on Shine TV (Sky 201, Freeview 25) this weekend.
- Newstalk ZB/ BGEA/ RBG News
Jars of Clay, an American Christian rock band are giving away one of their songs in an effort to raise money for relief efforts in the Philippines following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.
"Fall Asleep", from their acclaimed album 'Inland' released in August of this year, is offered for free by the Grammy-Awards winning band on the website NoiseTrade.
Listeners are encouraged to leave a donation, with all the proceeds being used to support the Red Cross.
The official music video for the song was created in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, and stars Filipino super-model and actress Rhian Ramos.
Dan Haseltine, lead vocalist of Jars of Clay, says, "By using the video and the song as a means to raise funds to help in the clean up and restoration efforts currently taking place in the Philippines, we felt it would be a wonderful way to respond in kind.
"We are hoping to raise $50,000 to help serve the amazing people of the Philippines and will be working with The Red Cross to ensure the funds are used properly and efficiently."
'Fall Asleep' can be downloaded at www.noisetrade.com/jarsofclay/fall-asleep
- RBG NEWS
The release of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry report has been welcomed by Australian Catholic Bishops.
CathNews says that the head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, hopes that the Inquiry and its recommendations, will assist the healing of those who have been abused.
The report documents the terrible abuse that occurred in the Catholic Church, over a 25-year period from 1960 to 1985. It also sets highlights the inexcusable failures in the Church's response to that abuse.
Archbishop Hart says that the Inquiry has been an important opportunity for victims to be heard, and hopes that this will enhance the care of victims and their families, as well as strengthening preventative measures.
He says it's the worst betrayal of trust in his lifetime in the Catholic Church, and acknowledges that leaders in the Church made indefensible mistakes.
The report has some criticism regarding the Churches processes under Melbourne Response and Towards Healing, to assist people who have been sexually abused.
However it does acknowledge that the process is a genuine attempt to respond meaningfully, and that it has provided assistance to victims.
The Church supports the Inquiry's key recommendations which includes: changes to the criminal law; easier access to the civil justice system; an independent, alternative avenue for justice; preventative measures and ongoing independent monitoring; and justice for victims.
- RBG NEWS/Newstalk ZB
A prayer vigil has been held alongside the presentation of a petition to the country’s authorities calling for an end to the persecution and discrimination Christians face in India.
Twenty-eight thousand signatures have been gathered by Release International for the ‘Free to Follow’ petition which wants the Indian authorities to protect Christians’ constitutional rights to practice and share their faith without fear of attack or arrest.
During a six month period the organisation’s partners in India have recorded 42 attacks against Christians in Andhra Pradesh, India’s fourth largest state. In the state of Karnataka, an average of two assaults a week against Christians are reported.
The charity’s press release states Chief Executive Paul Robinson and Patron Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali spent time discussing the issues with a representative at the High Commission in London. A copy of the petition addressed to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, was also presented to a Government Official at No 10 Downing Street.
Release supporters also read out a list of attacks against Christians and prayed for religious freedom in the country during the vigil.
- RBG News
Church icons, frescoes and mosaics that are hundreds of years old have been returned to Cyprus. The Associated Press reports more than a 170 items were stolen from Orthodox and Maronite Christian churches in the Turkish Cypriot northern part of Cyprus.
They were discovered in 1997 after police raided a property in Germany, but remained with authorities during lengthy legal proceedings regarding ownership.
Since 1974, following Turkey’s invasion of the north due to a military coup which was backed by the Athens government, Cyprus has been divided.
A special ceremony was held to mark the return of the hoard to the country and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was also thanked by the head of the island's Orthodox Christian Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, for his support.
According to AP, churches in the island's north have had hundreds of religious pieces looted, with some appearing on the black market in Europe, the U.S. and Asia.
It is understood the Byzantine Museum will now restore the items and display them.
- RBG News