News Articles

BP Ledger, Sept. 30 edition

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

Today’s BP Ledger contains items from:
International Mission Board
Forum 18 News Service
University of Mobile

Rankin receives lifetime service award
By Bill Bangham

DALLAS, Texas (International Mission Board) — Jerry Rankin, president emeritus of IMB (International Mission Board), was honored with a lifetime service award from Missio Nexus during the organization’s annual conference, Sept. 19-21, in Dallas.

Missio Nexus is an association of more than 200 agencies and churches deploying 35,000 evangelical missionaries across the world. It seeks to unify their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in spreading the Christian faith.

The group recognizes one individual each year who represents the faithfulness of God as evidenced in a life of service to the cause of global mission.

Rankin served with the IMB for 40 years — 23 on the mission field and 17 as president. He retired in 2010. Since then, he served as director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University, Columbia, S.C. He also serves on the university’s board of trustees.

Rankin said he was overwhelmed by his selection for the award and credits “God’s providence” for his 40 years of mission service through IMB.

“We experienced unprecedented growth and global impact during my 17 years as president,” Rankin said. “We were able to lead in a restructuring of organization and strategy in order to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

“It is obvious that God simply allowed me to hold a leadership role when He chose to move in radical ways to fulfill His mission.”

Tom Elliff, current IMB president, was not surprised with Rankin’s selection.

“Jerry Rankin’s name is synonymous with vision and a bulldog-like tenacity,” Elliff said. “He has this remarkable capacity to see in the future, to grasp what is happening in the world and to couple that with what God’s word tells us tells us about reaching people.”
Bill Bangham is editor of CommissionStories magazine for IMB.
Kazakhstan pastor deported, orthodox priest to follow?
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

TALDYKURGAN, Kazakhstan (Forum 18) — Twenty years after he began living in Kazakhstan, of which his wife and their three children are citizens, Baptist pastor Viktor Lim has been deported for leading a registered religious community. Lim is stateless but was living legally in Kazakhstan. “We weren’t prepared for this at all,” Pastor Lim told Forum 18 News Service on Sept. 23 from the country where he is now seeking asylum. “I and my family are still recovering from shock.”

The authorities also have been seeking to deport another foreign resident in the country’s Almaty region, Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony (Pyotr Yevtikheyev). A Russian citizen, he has lived in Kazakhstan since 1991.

The 37-year-old Pastor Lim was ordered deported by an Almaty regional court in May and failed in his appeal in June. The General Prosecutor’s office rejected his attempt to challenge the decision. He flew out of Kazakhstan on Aug. 16, he told Forum 18. His wife and children were not deported, but chose to leave with him. “We’re a family,” he said.

Zhumagul Alimbekov, head of the Religious Affairs Department of the Almaty region, which lodged the suit against Pastor Lim, refused to discuss the deportation or the moves to deport Fr Sofrony. “I can’t comment on court decisions,” he told Forum 18 from the regional capital Taldykurgan [Taldyqorghan] on Sept. 23.

Asked why the cases had been brought, Alimbekov responded: “That’s the law.” Asked why foreign citizens or people who have no citizenship cannot exercise their internationally-recognized right to freedom of religion or belief while legally resident in the country, he put the phone down.

No one at the Almaty regional Migration Police, which was put in charge of ensuring Pastor Lim’s deportation, was prepared to talk to Forum 18 between Sept. 23 and 30 either about his case or the moves to deport Fr Sofrony.

Deportation for non-citizens

Kazakhstan’s harsh 2011 Religion Law requires that those who conduct “missionary activity” – whether Kazakh citizens, people without citizenship or foreigners – have the approval of a registered religious organization and personal registration as a missionary. Article 375, Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offences prescribes fines for those who violate this provision. It also mandates deportation if those involved are not Kazakh citizens.

State officials often interpret leading or even speaking in a registered religious community as “missionary activity,” even if a meeting consists solely of existing members of the community.

Among many similar cases affecting many religious communities, a Muslim was fined and ordered deported back to his home country elsewhere in Central Asia in November 2011 for occasionally leading prayers in his local mosque without being personally registered as a “missionary.”

“Hypnosis” allegations prepared?

At the same time as the deportation case against him was launched in spring 2013, Pastor Lim said the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police were preparing to have his conduct leading his religious community deemed “hypnosis”.

Pastor Lim maintains he could have suffered the same fate as Astana-based Protestant pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, who is facing criminal charges of harming a congregation member’s health. Kashkumbayev spent a month undergoing enforced psychiatric examination before being transferred back to pre-trial detention in Astana.

Pastor Lim’s claims come amid rising concern among human rights defenders in Kazakhstan at the way the state is involving psychiatrists in religious freedom or opposition political cases.

Case launched

Pastor Lim, who was born in Uzbekistan, moved to Kazakhstan in 1993 to study mechanical engineering in the Kazakh Academy of Transport and Communications in Almaty. After becoming a Christian there he studied theology in Almaty. In 2006 he moved to Taldykorgan, near Almaty, to lead a Baptist church. He also established a new congregation in the nearby town of Ushtobe.

Like a number of people born in the Soviet Union who moved from one country to another in the years after the country broke up into individual states, Pastor Lim has no citizenship. He has a certificate as a stateless person issued by Kazakhstan’s government.

Pastor Lim was accused of leading religious activity from Jan. 1, 2013, without personal registration as a missionary, in a case brought by the Almaty region’s Religious Affairs Department. On May 27, Judge Berikzhan Baizhunusov of Karatal District Court found him guilty under Code of Administrative Offences Article 375, Part 3. The judge fined Pastor Lim the maximum amount of 100 Monthly Financial Indicators or 173,100 Tenge (1,130 U.S. dollars). He also ordered his deportation within 15 days, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18.

Insisting he was innocent of any offence, Pastor Lim appealed to the regional court. However, on June 13 in a decision also seen by Forum 18, Judge Yerlan Abdildin rejected his appeal. The verdict notes that Murat Asenbayev represented the Regional Religious Affairs Department at the appeal hearing.

“The appeal hearing lasted just 10 minutes — it was a pure formality,” Pastor Lim complained to Forum 18. “No discussion took place.”

One legal expert who has examined the case observed that as this case concerned a religious community, the decision had already been decided in advance.

Pastor Lim then appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office, his last possibility to challenge the fine and deportation. “I wanted to remain in Kazakhstan,” he insisted to Forum 18. However, the July 26 reply from Deputy General Prosecutor Zhakip Asanov, seen by Forum 18, said he had no grounds to challenge the decision and it remained in force.

“The court did not accept the argument that conducting services, religious rites and ceremonies was not missionary activity, as these actions are means of spreading a religious faith,” the letter insists. It points out that under Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3, the penalties of a fine and deportation for non-citizens are “fixed, with no alternative”. Pastor Lim said he had paid the fine.

Deputy General Prosecutor Asanov copied his response to the Almaty office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had also appealed on his behalf. Pastor Lim added that the UNHCR also appealed to the Interior Ministry, but it too gave them a negative response.

“He conducted illegal activity”

Marat Zhukenov, deputy head of Karatal District Prosecutor’s Office, defended the fine and deportation order. “We didn’t prepare the case, but we supported it,” he told Forum 18 from Ushtobe on Sept. 23. Asked why an individual who has lived in Kazakhstan for 20 years, is married to a Kazakh citizen and whose children are Kazakh citizens should be fined and deported for leading a registered religious community, Zhukenov responded: “He conducted illegal activity.” He then put the phone down.

Earlier pressure

Pastor Lim noted that pressure on him began much earlier. In 2008, the KNB secret police accused him also of violating Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3. However, Taldykurgan Specialised Administrative Court found him not guilty.

In February 2012, six officials in civilian clothes tried to gain entry to the family home in Taldykurgan. However, as they would not identify themselves and had no warrant, Lim’s wife Radmila refused to let them in. The officials eventually admitted they were from the Police Department for the Struggle against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism.

Orthodox priest ordered deported

The 44-year-old Fr Sofrony, who has been living in Kazakhstan since 1991 and completed Almaty seminary in 1993, retains Russian citizenship. He is priest at St. Sergy’s Church in the village of Tuymebayev. He also runs an orphanage and old people’s home next to his church which care for about 110 children and about 120 elderly people.

On Feb. 26, the KNB secret police in the country’s Almaty region refused Fr Sofrony a residence permit, citing “national security.” The region’s Migration Police then brought the deportation case against him, alleging he had failed to gain a residence permit as required by law, an allegation he refuted.

On July 24, in a letter seen by Forum 18, the secretary of the Astana and Almaty Orthodox diocese Oleg Ovchinnikov wrote to Judge Zhamilya Arstamova of Ile District Court pointing out Fr Sofrony’s decades of “selfless” work and his need for permission to reside in Kazakhstan. He therefore asked her to reject the deportation suit.

Despite this appeal, on July 29 Judge Arstamova upheld the suit, ordering Fr Sofrony’s expulsion at the Kazakh state’s expense within 10 days, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The court agreed that several minor infractions by the center he runs means he is not fit to remain in the country. Fr Sofrony’s lawyer argued that these were judgments against the centre, not against the priest, but the court did not accept that.

However, in correcting a number of small mistakes in the verdict on Aug. 6, Judge Arstamova removed a provision allowing Fr Sofrony to appeal, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

On Sept. 18, Almaty Regional Court ruled that the Aug. 6 changes to the original verdict do not prevent Fr Sofrony from appealing against the deportation. His lawyer Vladislav Madzigon is now appealing on his behalf. He told Forum 18 that the regional court is due to hear the appeal on the morning of Oct. 2.

On July 30, Bishop Gennady (Gogolev) of Kaskelen wrote to the regional court of his church’s concern about the priest’s deportation and expressing hope that it would bear in mind the entire circumstances surrounding the case. He also asked the court to delay any decision for a year to allow any questions over his presence in Kazakhstan to be resolved.

Children refused at school

On Sept. 1, the first day of the school year, the local school refused to accept seven new children from Fr Sofrony’s orphanage, he told “Kursiv” newspaper the same day. He quoted the school director as explaining that he wanted to take the children “but we had been given an order from on high”.

After “many journalists” had visited the school, the bar on the seven new children was lifted, Radio Free Europe’s Kazakh Service noted on Sept. 4.
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News – http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564. For more background, see Forum 18’s Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1352. Reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan can be
found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=29. ©Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved. ISSN 1504-2855.
8Eighty Records releases Chris Lockwood solo project

MOBILE, Ala. (University of Mobile) — Recording artist and University of Mobile alumnus Chris Lockwood released a new solo project, “Coming Alive,” with 8Eighty Records on Sept. 24. This project includes eight original songs all written by Lockwood and will only be available for purchase through the 8Eighty Records online store at www.8eightyrecords.com.

“Coming Alive” is a solo project separate from the group Lockwood is commonly associated with, 33 Miles. 33 Miles was nominated for the GMA Dove award for “Best New Artist” and has had numerous top 10 and top 20 radio singles. Lockwood’s songwriting was also utilized in the song “One Life to Love” which won the BMI “Song of the Year.”

Lockwood said Coming Alive “started as an experiment to see what would happen if I, for a moment in time, stepped away from the politics of the music industry to make music simply for the pure joy of it. This was a time for me to step away from co-writing for a short season, and write everything myself while moving into a more prominent producer role. I can’t say that it’s perfect by any means, but for my first go, I’m pretty proud of it.

“More than anything, I love the songs, because they’re the best ones I’ve recorded, to date, that represent me as a writer/artist,” he said.

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