NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Bolivia’s worst floods in 25 years have killed at least 35 people and driven more than 350,000 from their homes. International aid has begun to arrive in the country, where intense seasonal rains left approximately 600,000 acres underwater.
Up to 300,000 head of cattle may be drowned, and families forced from their houses may be homeless for up to three months, according to Mission Network News. More than 1,600 cases of dengue fever and 1,400 cases of malaria have been reported. Water supplies also have been contaminated, and much of the region’s crops have been destroyed. Many communities have been completely cut off.
Floodwaters have destroyed family gardens and washed out their banana groves, placing people in tribal areas in danger, said Nita Zelenak of New Tribes Mission. “The tribal groups … are going to be very much affected by this flood. There’s going to be times of real hunger unless something can be done to help them.”
HINDU MOB ATTACKS INDIAN BIBLE COLLEGE — A mob of about 500 anti-Christian radicals, led by a Hindu nationalist group, attacked a Bible college in India’s eastern state of Orissa Feb. 28. Five students and one staff member were seriously injured. One student was reported in critical condition.
The attackers disconnected the electricity, ransacked the campus and destroyed the roofs of many buildings, Mission Network News reported. “The magnitude of this attack is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. This is one of the most severe situations we’ve dealt with,” said K.P. Yohannan, president of Gospel for Asia, which operates the school.
The attackers were identified as members of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Hindu militant group Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Although the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Orissa is governed by a Hindu nationalist party that passed a law requiring citizens who become Christians to report to the government and ask permission to be baptized.
MARCHERS’ CHAINS DRAW ATTENTION TO SLAVERY — A group of British anti-slavery activists has set off on a 250-mile march -– bound in chains. The month-long trek marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in England and calls attention to the estimated 12 million people thought to be working in slavery today.
The “Lifeline Expedition” consists of 30 advocates who will march to London from Hull, where they were blessed with water from the baptismal where William Wilberforce was baptized, according to the BBC. Wilberforce, the English lawmaker who led the fight for abolition, is the subject of the “Amazing Grace” movie now playing in theaters across the United States.
Marchers, who include descendants of former slaves or employed slaves, are expected to reach Westminster in London on March 25.
400 MILLION CHINESE RELIGIOUS, NEW STUDY SAYS — Citizens of the People’s Republic of China are perhaps four times more religious than the government previously thought, according to a new survey conducted by East China Normal University. About 400 million people -– more than 30 percent of the country’s population -– practice a religion.
Official estimates previously had placed the number of religious followers at around 100 million.
Social crisis and a growing gap between rich and poor are causing more people to turn to religion, the author of the survey told The New York Times. “People feel troubled as they ponder these issues and wonder how they’ll be resolved,” Liu Zhongyu said. “People think, I don’t care what others do or what their results are, but I want something to rely upon.”
China officially recognizes five religions –- Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam -– and has restored or built new worship facilities for those groups. The government selects senior clergy for each of them, however, and persecutes people who follow unauthorized groups, including underground Protestant house churches.
LAOTIAN CHRISTIANS ‘DISAPPEARED,’ REPORTS SAY — Reports have filtered out of Laos that government agents are arresting Christians -– who often are never heard from again.
Two Christian men were taken from their farms in southern Laos and imprisoned, according to a report from Voice of the Martyrs. People close to the families said no charges were filed and no information had been released about the health or location of the men.
On Jan. 18, five police officers burst into the home of one Christian family in north-central Laos and arrested a man. His wife and 12-year-old son were not allowed to speak with him before he was taken away. Efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. VOM contacts in the country said other Christians arrested in similar incidents were never found alive.
BELARUS DEPORTS US CITIZENS FOR RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY — Volunteers from the United States who were conducting free English seminars at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mogilev, Belarus, were deported Feb. 15. Police detained the 10 workers after officers entered the church Feb. 9 and found Bibles on the tables and participants singing religious songs, according to the Associated Press. The deportation reportedly occurred after police found the group still conducting religious activities.
Each volunteer was fined $14, according to the Forum 18 News Service. Three of the Americans left Belarus after the first warning because of a family death. The seven others were deported after the second warning.
Stefanus, the charity sponsoring the English classes, was not a religious organization but chose to hold the seminars at the church because it had been offered free of charge, said director Dmitri Kontsevenko. Regional religious affairs official Valeri Sidorenko said the Americans were deported for “conducting a teaching program without a state license,” not for religious activity.
GUINEA QUIET AFTER DEAL ENDS STRIKE — Conditions in Guinea are returning to normal after an agreement with trade unions ended weeks of unrest and a national strike. Five missionary couples had relocated from the country because of the turmoil.
Trade unions had demanded an independent prime minister with more power to enact reforms, according to the BBC. President Lansana Conte appointed Lansana Kouyate, a former United Nations diplomat, to the position, ending the crisis Feb. 25. He replaced Eugene Camara, a presidential aide whose appointment triggered the unrest.
A union negotiator called for a day of prayer Feb. 26 to remember the 110 people who died during the violence.