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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Gaza Baptist Church seized,
bus driver killed; Venezuelans lining up to leave; …


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Palestinian Authority police seized the six-story Gaza Baptist Church building Feb. 2 to use as a lookout station against militants they have been fighting since December. Battles between the Fatah and Hamas factions have killed more than 80 Palestinians, including a bus driver for the church.

The driver, a Muslim, was killed by a stray bullet while walking down the street, said Al Janssen of Open Doors USA. “It’s really hit the church hard,” Janssen told Mission Network News. Christians in Gaza are “one group God could use to hopefully bring some peace to the region, but to be honest a lot of people just want to get out of there.” He called on Christians worldwide to pray that God would help His people stay in Gaza to be “light in the midst of terrible darkness.”

The police who commandeered the church building took up positions on the sixth floor, pastor Hanna Massad told Assist News Service. He is concerned that a firefight with Hamas militants could severely damage the building, which church members would be in no position to repair.

VENEZUELANS LINING UP TO LEAVE — Two months after Venezuela President Hugo Chavez was re-elected to a second six-year term, the country’s National Assembly has given him wide-ranging power to dictate new laws for 18 months, according to Voice of America. Now Venezuelans are lining up by the hundreds outside foreign embassies, hoping to acquire visas to flee the country.

Chavez intends to create a “Socialist Republic of Venezuela,” by nationalizing the country’s telecommunications and electricity industries and four major oilfields and stripping Venezuela’s central bank of its autonomy. He also intends to amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits, allowing him to repeatedly seek re-election.

Since 2005, Chavez has dominated the National Assembly because opposition parties have boycotted elections. Critics fear he will establish a dictatorship modeled after Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba. Venezuela is the eighth-largest exporter of crude oil worldwide and the fourth-largest foreign supplier to the United States.

SECRET PLAN TARGETS CHRISTIANS IN MYANMAR — A secret plan to wipe out Christianity is circulating in Myanmar (Burma), according to a Jan. 21 report in the London Sunday Telegraph. The document, which is believed to have been leaked from a government ministry, declares “there shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced” and details point-by-point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.

In one area of Myanmar, the homeland of the Chin people group, 90 percent of the population is Christian. Reports have surfaced recently that in one Chin Christian area, 300 Buddhist monks were sent to “forcibly convert” the people.

“This is all part of a pattern of persecution, which includes ethnic cleansing of Christian minority groups, the destruction of villages, forced conversions and even rape and murder,” commentator Charles Colson wrote on BreakPoint.org. An information sheet on helping oppressed Christians in Myanmar is available at www.breakpoint.org.

IRAN EXPANDS URANIUM ENRICHMENT PROGRAM — Despite the threat of tougher sanctions from the United Nations, Iran reportedly has added more than 300 centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment center in Natanz, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The move could be a step toward large-scale enrichment needed to create nuclear warheads.

The U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on programs and individuals linked to Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The body warned of stricter penalties within 60 days unless Iran freezes enrichment.

The process can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, but more highly enriched material can be used in the core of nuclear warheads. Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright told the AP that such an operation could be used to produce fissile material for two bombs a year. Experts have estimated Iran is two to four years away from having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.

MICRO-ENTERPRISE MAKING IMPACT ON EXTREME POVERTY — By making small loans of $50 or $60, Christian ministries overseas are helping people in extreme poverty start businesses and become self-sufficient. The strategy is adding a new dimension to traditional Christian “mercy ministries” like medical missions, food distribution and water well drilling.

“Micro-enterprise” lending can lift families and sometimes entire villages out of extreme poverty, said Richard Schroeder of World Hope International, which has set up such projects in seven countries. In Sierra Leone, their “bank for the poor” serves more clients than all the country’s commercial banks combined.

“There is tremendous poverty around the world and this is really a Christian response to seeking to help people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” Schroeder told Mission Network News. World Hope helps local churches establish the financial institutions, which in turn gives local believers more opportunities to share the Gospel.

HINDU EXTREMISTS ATTACK PASTORS’ CONFERENCE — About 25 members of a Hindu extremist group, the Dharam Sena (Religion Army), attacked a pastors’ conference in Raipur, India, Feb. 2, injuring at least 10 Christians. The attackers beat the pastors with sticks and accused them of forcibly converting Hindus, while shouting “Jai Shri Ram! (Hail god Rama).”

About 100 Christian leaders were present at the meeting, the owner of the meeting hall told Compass Direct News. Staff members locked one elderly Christian couple in a room to protect them, reported Jay Prakash. The mob also took a laptop, mobile phones, digital cameras and cash from the participants.

The police report did not identify anyone in the mob, even though conference participants identified the leader of the mob as Kishore Kothari, the district president of the Dharam Sena. Chhattisgarh state, where Raipur is located, has only 401,000 Christians out of a population of about 21 million.

AMERICAN MISSIONARY KIDNAPPED IN HAITI — Hostage negotiators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation headed to Haiti Feb. 6 to help secure the release of an American missionary kidnapped by gunmen in a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Nathan Jean-Bieubonne, a U.S. citizen of Haitian descent, was driving home Sunday from Betheal Church with three companions when gunmen surrounded the pastor’s all-terrain vehicle and forced him out at gunpoint, according to Fox News. The kidnappers later demanded a ransom from his family.

The FBI team will assist Haitian police and a United Nations anti-kidnapping squad in efforts to free Jean-Bieubonne. Kidnappings for ransom are a serious problem in Haiti, which has been plagued by crime since a 2004 coup that toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Kidnappers often target missionaries, who travel with little security and work in slum areas where fewer police are present.
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    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly