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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: South Africa pastor murdered during Bible study

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A pastor in South Africa who had partnered with North Carolina Baptist volunteers was shot and killed Jan. 22 as he led a Bible study at Masiphumelele Baptist Church in Fish Hoek. Phillip Mokson, founding pastor of the congregation, died and a woman was seriously wounded by a man who was baptized in late 2006 but struggled with depression. The woman apparently had rejected his romantic overtures.

The gunman, known as Vusi, took his own life after the shootings, according to the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of North Carolina. Masiphumelele township’s 20,000 residents are predominantly young and poor. As many as 25 percent of them are HIV-positive, according to John Thomas, pastor of Fish Hoek Baptist Church, which sponsors the work Mokson led.

The gunman reportedly had attempted suicide at least twice, and on one occasion Mokson had rescued him.

TURKISH PASTOR THREATENED, BUILDING VANDALIZED — The pastor of a congregation on Turkey’s Black Sea coast received death threats and the church building was vandalized Jan. 28 in an area where an Armenian journalist and an Italian Catholic priest were murdered in the past year. Agape Protestant Church has been the target of a dozen stoning attacks and weekly e-mail threats during the past two years, according to the Compass Direct news service.

About 30 rocks were thrown through church windows and a note was left inside the church, pastor Orhan Picaklar said. Police refused to show him what was written on the note, claiming it “wasn’t important.” Picaklar received two death threats by e-mail on the day of the attack, one signed “Turkish Vengeance Brigade.” One e-mail cursed the congregation as “Christian pigs” who would “burn in Hell.”

After the attack, the church’s landlord told the congregation it must vacate the building, to which it had moved only three weeks earlier. Though Turkey’s government is officially secular, it nevertheless funds and constructs most of the country’s mosques, pays the salaries of Muslim clerics and provides mosques with free water and utilities.

SUDAN GENOCIDE NOW RACIAL AS WELL AS RELIGIOUS — Arab Muslim militias that have been ruthlessly killing African Christians in southern Sudan have now turned their arms against African Muslims as well, according to ASSIST News Service. Now that the killing in Sudan has taken on overtones of both racial and religious genocide, African Muslim refugees are streaming into camps in the predominantly Christian south.

In the past four years, more than 200,000 Sudanese Christians have been murdered and 2.5 million displaced by the Arab militias, which were aided in many cases by African Muslims. Now an estimated 300,000 African Muslims, most of whom come from families that were forced to convert to Islam decades ago, are receiving ministry from the Christians they once persecuted.

“Jesus forgave me. I must forgive them,” said James Lual Atak, a former “lost boy” who now ministers through Make Way Partners to both Christian orphans and the Muslims who made them orphans. “The only way to lasting peace is through the love of Christ. We must help them. We strive to find tangible ways to minister to both Christians and Muslims side by side as a powerful peace building bridge.”

U.S., IRAQI FORCES FOIL SHIITE CULT PLOT — American and Iraqi troops on Jan. 29 killed several hundred armed members of a Shiite religious cult that had planned to launch an attack in the holy city of Najaf during one of the holiest Shiite holidays. At least 600 members of “Heaven’s Army” had been digging trenches in date palm orchards on the city’s outskirts and were planning to disguise themselves as pilgrims for the attack, an Iraqi commander told the Associated Press.

The gunmen planned to kill as many senior clerics as they could, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraqi officials said. The fighters apparently believed the violence would cause the reappearance of the Mahdi, an apocalyptic figure in radical Muslim sects like the one to which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad belongs.

The estimated death toll among cult members ranged from 150 to 400. Five Iraqi soldiers and two Americans lost their lives in the battle.

NO EXEMPTION ON HOMOSEXUAL ADOPTION, CHURCHES TOLD — Catholic adoption agencies in England will not be exempted from laws forbidding “discrimination” against homosexuals who want to adopt, but Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised they will get 21 months to prepare for the change, the BBC reported Jan. 29. The Roman Catholic Church said it was “deeply disappointed” no exemption had been offered, and Christian adoption agencies in England and Wales have said they would close rather than place children with homosexual couples.

“There is no place in our society for discrimination. That’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple,” Blair said. “And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination.”

The “Equality Act” outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation. If the new law is approved and goes into effect April 6 as planned, religious agencies will have a “statutory duty” to refer homosexual couples to other agencies through 2008.

CHINESE PERSECUTION TACTICS EVOLVING — The People’s Republic of China continues its general crackdown on unregistered house churches, but government strategies have changed, according to a new report from the China Aid Association, an organization that monitors religious freedom issues in China.

The number of reported raids on house churches decreased in 2006 but local officials closed and demolished more house churches than in 2005, said CAA President Bob Fu. The government detained more than 600 Christians in 2006, which is significantly less than the 2000 arrests reported in 2005. The drop, however, reflects a new tactic of interrogating church members during a raid rather than officially arresting them for questioning later.

Another new tendency is to target house church leaders with criminal accusations. For example, Cai Zhuohua, a house church pastor in Beijing, was convicted in November 2005 of “illegal operation of a business” for printing and giving away Bibles without government authorization.

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  • Mark Kelly