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March  20 - 30, 2019

Report Shows 57 Percent Jump in Aggression Against Christians in India

Cases of hate and violence against Christians in India increased 57 percent the first two months of this year compared with the same period last year, an advocacy group reported.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC) documented 77 incidents of hate and targeted violence against Christians in January and February, up from 49 cases during the same period last year. The cases include the murders of one Christian in Odisha state and another in Chhattisgarh state, both in February.

“We have reasons to believe that both men, who were in their 40s, were killed because of their faith,” the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI, told Morning Star News. “We have recorded cases where Christians have been facing social boycott and have been excommunicated from their villages, and in a few instances have had to flee to save their lives.”

Of the 77 incidents, 16 took place in Tamil Nadu state, 12 in Uttar Pradesh, six in Maharashtra and five in Chhattisgarh, the report found. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and, surprisingly, Kerala each saw four cases, followed by other states, Lal said.

The 49 cases recorded in the first two months of 2018 followed the documenting of 50 cases during the same period the previous year.

In one of the incidents this year in Uttar Pradesh, female police officers on Jan. 13 disrupted a Sunday worship service and arrested four women and two men, including the female pastor leading worship. At the police station, a female police officer physically assaulted the woman pastor, Sindhu Bharti, who fell unconscious.

“Boiling tea was forcibly thrust in her mouth because the police thought that she was feigning her unconsciousness,” an eyewitness, Madhu Bharati, told Morning Star News. “When that did not work, they poured two jugs of cold water on her face, not caring that it was already severely cold due to winter.”

Those arrested were charged with intent to hurt religious feelings, defilement of a place of worship and rioting, among other charges. The intervention of Christian leaders resulted in police freeing the arrested female Christians, but the men were kept under judicial custody.

Pastor Bharti received medical treatment for her injuries.

In the murders, two Christians were killed by Maoists, known as Naxalites, after area tribal people influenced the rebels in Odisha and Chhattisgarh respectively.

“Munglu Ram Nureti from Kohkameta village in Chhattisgarh was killed because villagers who were opposed to his practicing the Christian faith falsely reported him as a police informer to the Maoists,” Lal said. “Anant Ram Gond, from Nabarangpur in Odisha was killed a day before Munglu Ram Nureti in a similar but more gruesome manner. He was already being persecuted for his faith for some time. It has been reported and verified by credible sources that he was reported to be a police informer by villagers [who were angry at him becoming Christian] to the Maoists, which led to his killing.”

Gond had been living outside the village for some time after facing social boycott because of his faith, Lal said.

“There have been occurrences where Christians have been taken to temples and made to chant Hindu verses and seek forgiveness for the ‘sin’ of conversion,” he told Morning Star News. “At least two instances have been recorded where public banners against Christians have been placed outside Navsari, Gujarat and in Alangulam village near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Navsari banners prohibit the entry of Christians in the town, while those in Tamil Nadu, apparently put up by the Hindu Munnani, reportedly ask the Hindus to awake against religious preaching in the village.”

Alliance Defending Freedom-India, which provides legal advocacy for Christians, reported on Feb. 19 that 29 incidents against Christians took place in January.

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. India was ranked at 31st in 2013 but has been ranked worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

“We are still collecting and verifying information almost on a daily basis,” Lal said.

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Christians in Kazakhstan Fined for Praying Without Permission

Anti-terrorism officers assisted by local police raided two Baptist house churches in Taraz, Kazakhstan, during worship services on Feb. 10 and 17, fining the worshippers for conducting prayers without government permission.

Three people were fined between one and two months' worth of average wages and two other worshipers were also fined different amounts.

Those attending the churches were warned against publicly practicing their faith – or risk further punishment.

It's the latest suppression of religious freedom in the former Soviet republic, according to the newspaper - and an example of the unrelenting crackdown on Christianity in the Muslim-majority country.

The house churches are members of the Council of Churches Baptists which refuses to pay fines handed down to punish those who practice religion without permission.

Balgabek Myrzayev, acting head of the social harmony committee, which monitors the practice of religion said that he was not aware of the raids or fines.

"Our laws don't ban praying," he said but defended punishing people for practicing their faith without government approval.

"Our laws don't allow unregistered religious organizations and I don't have the right to change the law," he told the newspaper.

The latest raids follow a recent Kazakhstan court's ruling that fined another church in the Council of Churches Baptists.

Kazakhstan is listed as number 34 in Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List of the Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus.

The government is constantly working to maintain and increase its control over society, using surveillance, raids, and detentions. Christians are under nearly constant surveillance, and the threat of militant Islam is used as an excuse to restrict freedoms, resulting in worsening conditions for the Christian minority, according to the Open Doors USA website.

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Harlem’s Aging Houses of Worship Grapple With the Neighborhood’s Development Boom

The Rev. Darnell Harper stood in the darkened theater that for nearly 70 years has been the home of his Harlem church, the New Covenant Temple, and stretched a finger to the heavens. More specifically, to a mottled plaster ceiling marked with water stains and pocked with holes. “We’ve repaired the roof four or five times already, and the same thing happens,” Harper said. “It is definitely a building that is breaking down.”

Like dozens of church leaders across Upper Manhattan, Harper is wrestling with an earthly dilemma: As Harlem real estate values skyrocket, shrinking congregations and crumbling buildings are putting tremendous financial pressure on local churches. Do they stay, sell or look for some middle path to cash in on their newly valuable property while preserving their missions of faith and community service?

The 70-member congregation at New Covenant Temple fills only a few pews in the orchestra section of what was once the Washington Theater, a 1,432-seat vaudeville stage and cinema at West 149th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It was built in 1910 and designed by Thomas Lamb, architect for about 50 New York theaters in the early 20th century. Filling the orchestra and the balcony with worshipers, Harper said, “is not within my growth plans.”

Harlem’s population ballooned from 109,000 in 2000 to 143,500 in 2016 as its demographics shifted from 77% black to 57% black. During the same period, local church attendance plunged—and developers came calling.

“Churches need to find ways to persist without having the income they used to have,” says Jason Labate, a lawyer with Goldstein Hall, which specializes in low- income housing development and has worked with a number of Harlem churches. “They are asset-rich and cash-poor, and they are frequently trying to leverage that asset into some space that’s not falling down around them.”

Churches were a vital part of Harlem’s emergence as the cradle of African-American culture, anchoring the black community to the neighborhood, which runs roughly from West 110th Street to West 155th Street. “They were more than just places of worship,” said Michael Henry Adams, a self-taught neighborhood historian and a vocal advocate for its architectural preservation. “The churches were a major element of the metamorphosis of Harlem. They were a combination of employment agency, settlement house, dating service and credit union.

“Today there’s not a church in Harlem that isn’t more valuable as a stack of condos.”

Simon McGown, a real estate broker and architect, has counted about 350 properties owned by houses of worship from West 96th Street to West 155th Street, encompassing some 5 million square feet of development rights. “That’s 5,600 two-bedroom apartments,” McGown said. Throughout Manhattan, Borough President Gale Brewer’s office logged 913 parcels classified as religious facilities, plus 106 that were sold between 2013 and 2018. Some 650 of those buildings are neither protected landmarks nor in historic districts, and 196 are in neighborhoods zoned for mid- to high-density housing, making them prime prospects for development.

In central Harlem, only 22% of buildings are landmarked or in preservation districts, compared with 77% of Greenwich Village.

The increasing scarcity of developable land in Manhattan has led more builders to look at churches, many of which own not only their sanctuary but also adjacent empty lots and residential buildings. And the property has been surging in value: The average price of land in Harlem has nearly tripled from $85 per buildable square foot in 2010 to $237 last year, still a bargain compared with the $634 for Manhattan as a whole, according to real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

“There are a lot of predatory developers out there looking to take advantage of churches,” said McGown, whose firm, Koinonia Advisors, helps churches secure the full value of their property in a deal that works for them. “Most pastors go to seminary,” he said. “They don’t get any training in this at all.”

One successful development has been the Church of the Master at West 122nd Street and Morningside Avenue. In 2008 the Presbyterian congregation tore down its collapsing 1893 Victorian home, renovated an adjoining building and leased the ground under the former church to a developer, who built apartments. The congregation hired an attorney, an architect and a construction manager to assist. “The developers were not necessarily looking out for our interest, but we had people on our side who were,” said church elder Rory Scott, who helped oversee the undertaking.

The ground lease was the key, Scott said: “That was the main factor in our success, because the land became a continuous source of income.” With that money, the church sustains itself and its social programs, despite a shrinking and aging congregation.

“Ground leases are the gold standard,” Labate said. When churches sell their land or become partners with developers, “there’s a risk that the developer will go bankrupt, that the general contractor will walk off or that there’s not enough money to deliver what was promised.”

Sales of churches need to be reviewed by both the state Supreme Court and the state attorney general’s charities bureau. Labate credited Assistant Attorney General Linda Heinberg with working to ensure churches avoid “steeplejacking”—unscrupulous ministers or developers taking advantage of naive church leaders.

Still, Harlem is rife with examples of churches that have lost their sanctuary—and even their entire congregation—through development deals gone wrong.

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LifeWay Research: African-American Young Adults More Likely Than Their White Counterparts to Drop Out of Churches

African-American young adults are more likely than their white counterparts to drop out of Protestant churches during their early adult years, new research shows.

But equal percentages of black and white young adults say they currently attend services regularly.

A new analysis of survey data released last week (March 13) by LifeWay Research of Nashville, Tenn., found that nearly three-quarters of black young adults said they stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. By comparison, 65 percent of white young adults said they halted regular attendance during that period.

But 44 percent of white and black young adults who attended church regularly for more than a year in high school said they currently attended church at least twice a month. A quarter of white young adults said they did not currently attend church, compared to 19 percent of African-American young adults.

The survey, which was conducted in 2017, sampled the views of U.S. Protestant adults between the ages of 23 and 30.

Despite the early-adult dropoff in attendance, a black church expert at LifeWay Christian Resources said many African-American students continue to feel they have a connection to a church they previously attended.

Very often in African-American culture, we’re really, really tied to what we would call our home church, the church you grew up in,” said Mark Croston, a former pastor who works for the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention. “And so for many of our students, as they would move away to college, they would in their minds still be holding onto their relationship with their church back where they grew up.”

Croston said the survey shows that churches that do not have an active young adult ministry should consider having one.

The father of two adult children who are millennials said both expressed how important finding a congregation with a young adult ministry was to them as they looked for a new church after moving away from home. His daughter, he said, gave up on one congregation because it no longer offered a vibrant group that focused on young people.

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Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to Launch Reformatted Master of Arts in Ministry to Women

A master of arts in ministry to women will be launched in the fall, in a newly accessible format at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The new format, the seminary announced, will allow women in a diversity of life stages and locations to receive high-quality theological training, network with respected Bible teachers around the country and build lasting friendships.

“My hope is to make the degree more accessible to women called to minister to women in the local church and non-profit organizations and to equip students to be competent in several areas: theology, Bible exposition, biblical counseling and leadership,” said Julia Bickley, associate dean of graduate program administration and assistant professor of ministry to women.

The M.A. in ministry to women will be offered in a layered hybrid format, which allows students to take two classes simultaneously by completing a total of 12 weeks online and five days on campus. The course allows women to come together in cohorts during their time in the 49-hour degree program.

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Man Shows Simple Act of Kindness, Buys Servicemen Chick-fil-A in Honor of Late Brother with PTSD

Jonathan Full didn’t hesitate before choosing to pay for the meals of 11 servicemen and women at a local Chick-fil-a in Durham, North Carolina, choosing to honor his late stepbrother who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The man’s brother, Stephen Full, told the story on Facebook, sharing his pride in his brother’s kind gesture. Many on social media have responded to Jonathan’s generosity, and his desire to raise awareness of PTSD among veterans.

“[My] message to them was to reach out to their fellow servicemen and help anyone with PTSD because I just lost my brother to it,” Jonathan Full told Yahoo Lifestyle. “It was a way for me to express my gratitude for what they do and help me grieve for my brother, … And [I wanted to] give back to them for what burdens they will now carry for life to help us.”

It was a normal day in March, when Jonathan, who works as an equipment technician, and his brother, Stephen Full, took their children to Chick-fil-A to give their wives time to shop. Two servicemembers entered the restaurant and went to order their meals. Jonathan “immediately got up and went to pay for their meal,” wrote Stephen on Facebook. “Little did he know, about 9 more walked in lol. He didn’t’ even bat an eye and asked everyone in line to allow the 9 come to the front of the line.”

While Jonathan Full was with the soldiers, Stephen said he took the opportunity to explain to his son and nephew “how it was Jonathan’s honor to be able to buy them a meal and say thanks for our freedom and thanks for keeping us safe,” Stephen Full told Yahoo Lifestyle.

“This is how good starts, with teaching our kids and showing them how to show respect and honor,” he said.

“As he paid for their meals, in remembrance of our late brother Joshua who suffered mentally from severe PTSD, he asked them to reach out to anyone they knew with PTSD and try their best to get them the help they needed. We thanked them for their service and left. Taught our boys to take care of the people that take care of us. Please share this, in expanding efforts for PTSD support for the men and women that fight for our country every day,” wrote Stephen, in the conclusion of his story.

Facebook responses have shown the extent to which this act of kindness has touched onlookers. One of the servicewomen’s partners, who Jonathan Full purchased a meal for, responded with thanks. “We both serve I the military and understand the struggles our brothers and sisters in arms face,” she said. “Even those small gestures mean so much. We’re terribly sorry for your loss.”

Through the praise, the Full brothers hope that people ultimately remember to “take care of the people who take care of us with their lives.”

“I want serviceman and women to know that PTSD is not always visible. Please, please talk to someone,” said Stephen to Yahoo. “I know you are broken, but we can put the pieces back together and get you fixed, make you whole again.”

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