News Articles

BP Ledger, March 28 edition

EDITOR’S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each Monday from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.

Today’s BP Ledger includes items from:
BP correspondent in Southeast Asia
BP staff compilation – obit of Jim Cogdill
LifeWay Christian Resources
Compass Direct News

India village gets
clean water from N.C.
By Caroline Anderson
INDIA (BP correspondent)–For most Americans, having clean water simply means walking into the kitchen. For a village in India, having clean water meant walking more than a mile round trip.

One woman from North Carolina and her Sunday School class decided to shorten the walking distance for a village in India.

Katie Justice heard about the need for water in this village of more than 200 people after members of her church, Flemings Baptist Church in Lenior, N.C., took a mission trip to work with her nephew Cal Hardison*. Hardison and his wife Maggie work with national pastors in the area.

Justice learned from the mission trip debrief that the only usable well in the village had not been properly maintained and the water was too dirty to drink. The United Nations estimates most villages in India do not have clean drinking water, with one in six people in the world denied access to clean, fresh water.

The Hardisons said village women going for water would bring back as much as they could carry in containers, often weighing as much as 41 pounds — while carrying their babies at the same time. This water provided for their families daily needs — drinking, cooking and cleaning. The UN suggests every person needs five to 13 gallons of water a day.

Justice and several friends from her Sunday School class decided to send $1,000 to build several wells in this village, to eliminate the mile-long walks.

“After church one Sunday night, we were talking about the church budget not having a designated amount to send,” Justice said. “It seemed to us that we three, in fact, could be the ones to provide money for one or more wells.

“Providing wells was a way to put our desire to show the love of our Savior Jesus to those in need,” Justice said.

The well project also provided inroads for national pastors in the area to share the Gospel. One of the wells was built on the property of a national partner.

“It (the well) has created several opportunities for him and his wife to re-share the Gospel and to share more stories from the Bible as the people come to his house to pump water,” Maggie Hardison said.

Before, the national partner didn’t have much success in sharing the Gospel. Hardison said the well strengthened his credibility in the community.

“When he put in the well, many neighbors walked by and asked if they were going to be able to use it,” she said.

There are two hand-pump wells in the village, one located in a government-owned school and another privately owned. The government school would not allow usage during school hours. The man who owned the private well wouldn’t allow anyone outside his family to use the pump. Villagers also were banned from using a well located on a mosque compound.

“He told them, yes, that it would be available to anyone in the community,” Hardison said.

There are 10 known believers in the village, Hardison said. The majority of the village professes to be Hindu. Some of the villagers are Muslim.

“People understand that the Christians are willing to help anyone in the community, despite religion or caste (class status),” Hardison said.

A second well will be dug soon for the community.
Caroline Anderson writes for Baptist Press from Southeast Asia. *Name changed.
Jim Cogdill, former VP
at MBTS, dies
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (BP staff)–James “Jim” Cogdill Jr., a former vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., died March 17 at Southeast Missouri Medical Center in Cape Girardeau. He was 55.

Cogdill also had served as director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Growth at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an associate professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

His wife Debbie circulated an email March 19 stating, “This was totally unexpected and occurred quickly. Jim had been doing so very well recovering from many of the issues that had plagued him for the past few years. We were happier than we had been for several years.

“The cause of death according to the autopsy was a huge pulmonary emboli (blood clot) in his lung. …

“God is meeting my needs through the love of family and friends, however I ask for your prayers for peace for myself, because I know Jim met Jesus on Thursday,” Debbie Cogdill wrote.

Cogdill, who also served as a pastor and associational director of missions during his ministry, had earned doctor of philosophy and master of divinity degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1990 and 1986, respectively.

He was a member of the Fruitland (Mo.) Community Church.

The funeral was held March 21 at Bailey Funeral Home in Vienna, Ill. Memorials may be made to the Art Murrie Resource Center, c/o Simpson Baptist Church, P.O. Box 102, Simpson, IL 62985 or to the Straight Way of Grace Ministry, P.O. Box 244, Venice, FL 34284-0244.
LifeWay names media relations manager
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LifeWay)–Jon Wilke has joined LifeWay’s communications department as media relations manager. Wilke serves as one of LifeWay’s main spokespersons and is the primary contact for all journalists and media. Wilke also will support social media efforts and provide strategic leadership for new media across the organization.

Jon brings extensive media relations experience to LifeWay’s communications department. Here is a brief description of his background:

— Former military journalist and media relations specialist for US Marine Corps and US Army.

— Worked as a radio news announcer, TV news producer, web content manager and newspaper editor.

— Coordinated media appearances on “Good Morning America,” “David Letterman” and “Regis & Kathy Lee.”

— Assisted international, national and local news media organizations for nearly 15 years.

— Acted as organizational spokesperson for various nonprofits, charities and military organizations.

Wilke holds a B.S. degree in public relations from Murray State University in Murray, Ky. He and his wife have one daughter and reside in Nashville, Tenn.
Convert from Islam Escapes Egypt with Daughter
After painful effort to change ID card, Christians flee – to similar fate.
By Wayne King
CAIRO, Egypt, March 21 (Compass Direct News)–When the plane carrying Maher El-Gohary and his daughter, Dina Mo’otahssem, took off from Cairo International Airport last month, they both wept with joy. After spending two-and-a-half years in hiding for leaving Islam to become Christians, they were elated by their newfound freedom.

They also felt secure that once they arrived in Syria, they would quickly obtain visas to the United States and start a new life. That hope soon proved unfounded.

After spending more than a week and a half unable to obtain a visa to the United States or to any country in Europe, they realized they may have traded in the reality of being prisoners in their own country for being refugees in another. And as El-Gohary watches the weeks pass and his resources dwindle, he said the stress is almost unbearable.

“I feel like we’ve stepped out of a prison cell and into a fire,” he said. “We are in very, very bad conditions … My daughter and I divide the bottles of water to live, because there is no income.”

Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, 58, gained notoriety in Egypt after he sued the government in August 2008 to gain the right to change the religion listed on his state-issued ID card from Islam to Christianity. In Egypt, ID cards play a critical role in a person’s life, being used for everything from opening a bank account and renting an apartment to receiving medical care.

The listed religious affiliation, whether a card-holder subscribes to it or not, also determines whether the person is subject to Islamic civil law. The listed religious designation determines what state-mandated religion classes minors are required to take in school. El-Gohary said he filed the suit so his daughter, then 15, could opt out of the religious classes and would not be subject to the persecution he suffered when he became a Christian in his 20s.

It is a crime punishable by imprisonment to have no ID card in Egypt.

The suit sparked outrage throughout Egypt. Both El-Gohary and his daughter were publicly branded apostates in a country where 84 percent of Muslims think those who leave Islam should be executed, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center in December. The same month the suit was filed in 2008, El-Gohary and his daughter were forced into hiding.

For two and a half years, El-Gohary shifted back and forth among several apartments in Cairo and Alexandria, usually once every month. Even in hiding, the two were harassed regularly by Egypt’s dreaded State Security Intelligence service (SSI) and assaulted repeatedly by others, including someone pouring acid on Dina, El-Gohary said.

While in hiding, El-Gohary tried repeatedly to leave Egypt, but officials at the Ministry of the Interior blocked him at every attempt. On at least one occasion, they seized his passport. In December 2010, after a long legal battle, El-Gohary got a court decision ordering the Ministry of the Interior to allow him to travel, but he said it still took several weeks for the government to comply with the order; the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 revolution didn’t hurt, El-Gohary said.

Out of Egypt

After the national demonstrations that led to the removal of both President Hosni Mubarak and Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adly, El-Gohary and his daughter went to Cairo International Airport on Feb. 22 to leave the county. They came prepared with their newly issued passports, the court order and myriad documents to prove they had the right to leave the country. Even so, authorities took the two aside for interrogation at the airport.

“My daughter and I went to the counter of the airport to the manager, then they took us to the SSI,” El-Gohary said. “We spent an hour talking to an officer trying to tell him, ‘We spent ages during Habib Al-Adly’s time, and even now after the revolution, we don’t have the right to leave?'”

According to El-Gohary, the guard asked him if he really wanted to leave the country.

“Yes,” El-Gohary replied. “I have a court order against Al-Adly, and I have the right to leave and the freedom to travel outside the country.” As if to add insult to more than two years of injury, the SSI officers told El-Gohary that Egypt was “their country” and to “come back anytime you want to.”

El-Gohary credits the revolution as the reason he was allowed to leave Egypt, saying it was a miracle “from God.”

They chose to go to Syria because Egyptian citizens are not required to have visas to visit there. After contact with a U.S. organization that concentrates on religious freedom, El-Gohary expected it would be easy to get a visa to the United States, where his wife lives. But he said he has been unable to obtain an entry visa there or to any country where he will feel safe. He went to a U.N. office in Syria seeking assistance; he was given an appointment to come back on April 20.

“I wasn’t expecting, after all this suffering and all these years, that…” El-Gohary said, cutting himself off. “The series of persecution is not finished.”

Although they don’t live under the same type of threats as they did in Egypt, El-Gohary and Dina now live in an apartment where they still watch everything they say and everyone with whom they talk. They still spend much of their time trapped between the four walls of their apartment because Syria, El-Gohary said, is a country where converts to Christianity from Islam are persecuted.

“The danger is still there,” El-Gohary said. “We don’t get out of the house. We don’t meet people. We don’t tell people what we are doing or talk to them about our situation. Because we don’t want someone to say, ‘Why are you applying to the U.N.?’ There are still a lot of enemies.”

Dina, now 17, said that although leaving Egypt was “like a miracle,” she is devastated by the prospect of having to spend more time with her life on hold. She said she is just as scared in Syria as she was in Egypt.

“We’re really, really tired of all this suffering,” she said. “I’ve lost two years of my life. I want to finish school.”

Muslim converts to Christianity in Syria were sometimes forced to leave their place of residence due to societal pressure last year, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report. While there is no official state religion in Syria, the constitution requires that the president be Muslim and stipulates that Islamic law is a principal source of legislation.

With strict monitoring and curtailing of militant Islam, the government in Syria has long been considered a moderate regime. The government’s fear of violent responses by Islamic extremists to increasing conversions to Christianity, however, was at least partially responsible for the closing of six buildings where Christians were meeting last year, according to Christian support organization Open Doors. Noting that several Christians were arrested and interrogated in 2010, the organization’s World Watch List bumped Syria’s ranking up to 38th place among nations in which persecution of Christians takes place, from position 41 the previous year.

Syria is 90 percent Muslim, and 6.34 percent of its 22.5 million population is Christian, according to Operation World.

Though El-Gohary and his daughter have a dark outlook on their current situation, they are still grateful.

“Without God’s love, we would have been dead by now,” El-Gohary said. “Getting out of Egypt itself was a victory from God.”

Dina said she also is thankful, but that as she gets older she is becoming increasingly preoccupied by one wish.

“I want to get out so I can finish my studies,” she said. “I want to go into a church and out of a church without being scared of being killed.”

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