PODCAST: Congregations in Nepal are reeling after a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases (International Christian Herald 07.5.21)

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According to Christianity Today, Congregations in Nepal are reeling after a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases this spring threw the Himalayan nation into chaos, overflowing hospitals and crematoriums and leaving the national army to deal with 100 bodies a day in the Kathmandu Valley alone. The Nepali church has lost more than 130 pastors during a second wave of the pandemic that has pushed reported cases past 635,000 and confirmed deaths past 9,000. Half of those cases and two-thirds of those deaths have been tallied since April. “In the month of May, pastors were dying almost every day,” said B. P. Khanal, a pastor, theologian, and leader of the Janajagaran Party Nepal. “I have never seen something like that.” Christians comprise a distinct minority of Nepal’s 29 million people: a 2011 census reports 1.4 percent, while local Christian leaders report 10 percent. Yet according to Khanal’s database, which tracks the pastor deaths, from February 2021 to today more than 500 pastors and their families have contracted the coronavirus, which multiple times has taken the lives of fathers and sons who co-led churches together. For example, pastor Robert Karthak’s 56-year-old son, Samuel, died days after his respected father. While Robert had the privilege of a proper funeral, Samuel’s body was taken by the Nepali army which performed his last rites. Other noteworthy deaths of Nepali pastors, according to Khanal, include Timothy Rai, Ambar Thapa, Man Bahadur Baudel, and Amar Phauja, as well as a Christian attorney and prominent religious freedom advocate, Ganesh Shrestha. A “vacuum in leadership” now faces many churches, said Hanok Tamang, chairman of the National Church Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN). “Some churches—particularly megachurches—had already prepared their second line of leadership to replace the pastors who went to be with the Lord,” he said. “But this is not true everywhere.” His fellowship has asked neighboring churches to “extend a hand of unconditional help” until replacement leaders can be prepared. “Many young wives have lost their husbands. Some children have lost their both father and mother, and the number of semi-orphans and complete orphans remained still unaddressed,” said Tamang. “There are so many widows and hundreds of orphans.” The overall pandemic, and particularly this second wave, has hit church finances hard in the mountainous country landlocked between India and China.

According to CNN, The Vatican has indicted 10 people, including an Italian cardinal, for several alleged financial crimes including extortion, corruption, fraud, forgery, embezzlement and abuse of power. The investigation, which started in July 2019, was carried out by the Vatican in cooperation with Italian authorities and revealed “a vast network of ties between financial market operators who generated substantial losses for the Vatican finances,” a statement from the Vatican said on Saturday. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was indicted “for the crimes of embezzlement, abuse of office … and bribery,” the Vatican added. Becciu allegedly used money from the Vatican to benefit his two brothers’ businesses, according to a detailed report by Vatican News, which is what led the Pope to fire the cardinal last year. Becciu, who once held a powerful position in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, said on Saturday in a statement he is a victim of a “conspiracy” against him and maintained his innocence. Vatican laws require the Pope to sign off on any investigation and indictment of a cardinal. Becciu, 73, was created cardinal by Pope Francis in 2018 and made the head of the office that oversees canonizations of saints. From 2011, he served as the “substitute” in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, a powerful position similar to chief-of-staff.

According to Christianity Today, Amid the harrowing stories of COVID-19 carnage in India, hundreds of Christians across the country have volunteered via the Love Your Neighbor Network, an organic lay-led effort that has brought relief and comfort to tens of thousands of Indians impacted by the pandemic. In May 2020, during the world’s largest nationwide lockdown, Rahul George, an entrepreneur in Bengaluru and founder of the network, was stirred to do something when he saw visuals on local media of daily-wage migrant laborers walking back to their villages without any means of sustenance and support. “The images kept haunting me,” he told CT. “I was angry and depressed, often looking at the little children who were accompanying their parents and thinking of my own children and if I was a migrant worker myself.” On March 24, the Indian government had announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, giving its 1.38 billion people only four hours’ notice. This severe step, which ended up being extended for two weeks, was viewed as a “human tragedy” by media outlets as it left millions of daily-wage migrant laborers without work overnight. Along with their families, the migrants were forced to leave locked-down cities and return to their home villages on foot since public transportation was not available. Many collapsed and died on the road as they battled starvation and fatigue while walking hundreds of miles.  George reached out to his contacts and asked if they could join together to help people in need. As often happens in India, a group was formed on WhatsApp. Within two days, it grew to 256 members—the maximum number allowed by the social media platform. A diverse mix of Christian doctors, lawyers, IT professionals, and even believers within the Indian army, government, and police affiliations came together from across the country. Then churches and Christian NGOs were strategically invited to join, offering more expertise and volunteers for the network. In total, three city groups and eight state groups were formed, with an average of 100 volunteers in each. As resources were raised, the groups divided themselves further into smaller task-specific teams, according to the needs of each state or city. Some teams organized paperwork, transport, and food for thousands of migrant laborers as they sought to return home. A call center was also set up to facilitate communication with migrants who spoke different languages. “People became more sensitive to the needs of migrants,” said Saraswathi Padmanabhan, leader of an organization that serves such laborers in Bengaluru. “God has called us to work with migrant communities, so it was heartwarming to see people [recognize] the needs and challenges [of migrants] and come forward to help.”

According to Baptist Press, Registration is still open for the 2021 MedAdvance conference, hosted by the International Mission Board. The conference will be held Aug. 5-7 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Organizers say as healthcare missionaries share from around the world, participants will discover how God is at work. Those working in or interested in the medical field will learn how they can serve on mission at home and overseas using their God-given talent, skills and experience. Dr. Rebekah Naylor, global healthcare strategies consultant for the IMB and professor of missions at Southwestern, says healthcare missions is opening doors to a hurting world and granting gospel access to unreached peoples and places in unique ways. “The MedAdvance conference provides a wonderful opportunity for healthcare professionals and students and church leaders to learn how they can be involved in praying, giving and going using health strategies to access the unreached, make disciples, form healthy churches and train leaders,” Naylor says. The annual conference provides opportunities for healthcare workers, professionals, students and church leaders to connect with IMB missionaries and leaders for networking and discussion surrounding medical missions opportunities.

According to Religion News Service, Pope Francis shone a light on the troubled country of Lebanon, currently faced with deep economic, social and political unrest, during an ecumenical day of prayer at the Vatican, calling the country’s political leaders to set aside self-interest for the benefit of their people. “Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits! The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference,” Pope Francis said during his speech closing the prayer for Lebanon on Thursday (July 1). Lebanon is experiencing a strong economic depression, which ranks among the top 10 — if not the top three — economic and financial crises in the world since the mid-19th century, according to World Bank data published on Wednesday. Over half the Lebanese population lives beneath the poverty line, with rising inflation and a massive diaspora of young citizens. “Colossal challenges, continuous policy inaction and the absence of a fully functioning executive authority” are to blame for the country’s spiraling into chaos, according to the World Bank report. Last summer, a large explosion in the port of Beirut, its capital, left 180 people dead and roughly 300,000 displaced. In the aftermath, citizens protested in the streets against the political stalemate gripping the country. The Vatican and Pope Francis have taken a deep interest in the troubled nation. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, charged with handling the Vatican’s relations with states, said Lebanon has been a recurring theme in conversations with foreign dignitaries and heads of state visiting the Vatican. Lebanon plays a key role in the Vatican’s presence in the Middle East; it’s the only Middle Eastern country where Catholics are protagonists on the political scene. The mosaic of Eastern Catholic rites in the country — especially the Maronite Church — defines the identity of the small nation, nestled between Syria and Israel. The president of Lebanon must be a Maronite Catholic, according to the constitution, and about one-third of members of its Parliament are Catholic.

According to Baptist Press, In 2020, Deaf people numbered nearly 70 million people around the world. Of those, 1,444 Deaf people die every day without Christ, according to IMB’s 2020 Annual Statistical Report. Most Deaf people around the world have none of the Bible in their heart sign language. Those numbers should concern any Great Commission Christian, IMB President Paul Chitwood told those at a June 15 gathering held in conjunction with the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville. Chitwood and Mike Glenn, senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Tennessee, celebrated the Bible translation work of Deaf Pathway Global, a non-profit venture of Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church that offers sign language translations of Bible stories by Deaf translators. “Knowing that many Deaf around the world die lost every day, we know there is not a moment to spare,” Chitwood said. “We must press forward as quickly as we can, and to be able to do so in a project like this is unprecedented.”

According to Christianity Today, While headlines focused on intra-Baptist fights during the recent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Nashville, many commentators overlooked a remarkable resolution advocating for Uyghur Muslims in China. With Resolution 8, Southern Baptists joined Pope Francis in highlighting the abuses suffered by Uyghurs but went a step further by labeling their persecution as genocide. Uyghurs are an ethnolinguistic group, predominately Muslim, found in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Chinese atrocities specifically targeting Uyghurs and other traditionally Muslim ethnic groups are well documented. These abuses by China were a rare area of agreement between the Trump and Biden administrations, with both labeling the Chinese persecution as a genocide. In Nashville, among resolutions dealing with sexual abuse and electing a new SBC president, the 15,000 delegates or messengers considered Resolution 8: “On the Uyghur Genocide.” It cited “credible reporting from human rights journalists and researchers” which “concludes that more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps in the Xinjiang Province.”   Griffin Gulledge, a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, drafted the resolution. He became outspoken after watching videos of Uyghurs chained and shackled. “China is committing one of the grossest acts of human rights violations in modern history,” he wrote on Twitter, “and we aren’t saying a word because it financially benefits most of the rest of the world.” Gulledge’s resolution built the biblical case for Christian human rights advocacy. From the Old Testament, it quoted Genesis 1:27 (people are made in God’s image) and cited the call in Psalm 82:3 to “provide justice for the needy … [to] uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.” From the New Testament, it quoted the admonition in Hebrews 13:3 to “remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.” The resolution commended the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for its advocacy and cited past SBC statements that “affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone.” In the resolution, the SBC directly called out China. It urged “the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse.” Significantly, America’s largest Protestant denomination declared, “We stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them.” The SBC encouraged US government efforts “to bring an end to the genocide of the Uyghur People, and work to secure their humane treatment, immediate release from reeducation camps, and religious freedom,” as well as to admit them as refugees into the United States.

In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!

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