The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Several of the ELCA's partners in Action By Churches Together pulled relief workers out of Iraq and considered suspending aid programs this April. "The hostage-taking in Iraq, combined with an escalation of hostilities in general, have compelled DanChurchAid to seriously reconsider its international presence in Iraq," said the Danish Lutheran agency's relief coordinator, Lennart Shov-Hansen. At presstime, DanChurchAid had removed its international staff and was considering whether to discontinue all work. International Orthodox Christian Charities and Norwegian Church Aid also pulled out non-Iraqi staff while struggling to continue programs. NCA replaced conspicuous marked vehicles with less noticeable ones. At presstime, the Middle East Council of Churches was maintaining its programs in Iraq.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service asked the Department for Homeland Security to allow Malik Jarno, a developmentally disabled orphan from Guinea, to stay in the United States. LIRS believes he will be abused and mistreated if returned to his war-torn country. Jarno sought refuge at age 16 but has been jailed with adult offenders for three years while awaiting an asylum hearing. He was provided no adult guardian or attorney. Recently a deportation order was rescinded and Jarno was given a second chance to present his case. Now LIRS is asking Congress to pass the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act, which would provide free legal help and guardians to young people so they won't be jailed with adults.

"Life is 'worse' for many of Iraq's poor," reports Christian Aid, an ELCA partner in Action By Churches Together. The Baghdad Vulnerability Survey interviewed 1,000 families in impoverished, mostly Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad (www.christian-aid.org.uk/world/where/meeca/iraqp.htm). It concluded: "During the Saddam years, the war was at the frontline; now it has moved into their own streets." The survey found children working to boost family income, contaminated water supplies and generally miserable living conditions "greatly exacerbated by insecurity, crime, economic uncertainty, unemployment, inadequate public services and poor housing."

Peter Akinola, Anglican archbishop of Nigeria and chair of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said most African Anglicans intend to refuse financial support from the Episcopal Church USA after the church consecrated an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire. "For many years, we have developed this dependency syndrome, which must be broken," Akinola said, adding the U.S. church had three months to repent and "come back to the main fold of the Anglican world." A Minneapolis Star Tribune story reports that Kenyan archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said his church was committed to giving up significant sources of funding from such U.S. Episcopal entities as Trinity Wall Street in New York, for example. But in an interview with Ecumenical News International, Nzimbi said the matter was complicated since some U.S. Episcopalians oppose homosexuality. "We are giving time to our brothers in America to sort themselves out," Nzimbi told ENI.

Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of the ELCA and 18 other Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations, expressed alarm about President Bush's April 14 remarks endorsing Israel's West Bank settlements and wish to prevent Palestinian resettlement within Israel. Corrine Whitlatch, the coalition's executive director, said Bush "betrayed decades of diplomatic advances, undercut the future of the Road Map peace plan and ignored its co-sponsors (the United Nations, the European Union and the Russian Federation)." Jim Winkler, a United Methodist leader, said Bush "should be pressuring both sides to stem the violence and start talking again. President Bush has effectively told the world that what Israel has taken by force from the Palestinians is now acceptable. This is a road map to war."

After a cold spell in southeastern Nepal killed at least 70 people, Lutheran World Federation-Nepal provided 6,000 wool blankets to vulnerable families. The near freezing temperatures trapped poor people in their homes and destroyed vegetable and rice crops.

In March, Ronald and Vonnie Rentner, ELCA missionaries serving Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala, were harassed and subjected to rock-throwing by "evangelical" neighbors in La Isla. A struggle continues over property ownership. The Guatemalan courts guaranteed the church's title in the 1990s, but "in return for their political support of the previous government, these neighbors fully expected that the property of our church would be confiscated and turned over to them ...," Ronald Rentner wrote. Lutheran church leaders filed a criminal report and visited with a human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy.

Zdzislaw Tranda, retired head of the Reformed Evangelical Church in Poland, said he was "astonished" by a statement from the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland rejecting female pastors and joint services where women preach or preside. Lutheran bishop Tadeusz Szurman said the statement was a clarification of church rules, adding, "We don't want to go the way of the West, which leads to having more mosques than churches. ... Our church is too small and our priests too busy to introduce this change. Women can't do this work, just as they can't go down our coal mines."

Pietro Sambi, head of the Vatican's Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem, rebuked Israel in April for not renewing visas of Christian clergy and volunteers. Israeli immigration police were ordered to stop arresting Christian clergy, but Sambi said this was "not enough." More than 130 Roman Catholic priests and nuns and hundreds of other Christians were affected by the denial of visa renewals. Eli Varon, an adviser to Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, said the government would "soon bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion."

Churches opened their doors as temporary shelters when more than 30,000 people were displaced by ethnic violence in Makurdi, Nigeria, in March and April. An unexpected outcome: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Evangelicals and Pentecostals shared outdoor Easter services. "For the first time, the warring factions in the ethnic crisis forgot their differences and prayed together," said Celestine Ayongo, a Catholic priest.

Dennis Frado of the ELCA Office for World Community at the United Nations in New York, was dismayed in April to hear that Israeli restrictions on transport of relief to the Gaza Strip stopped the U.N. Relief and Works Agency's food deliveries to about 600,000 Palestinians. The U.N. agency provides about 250 tons of food per day to the area, where two out of three households live below the poverty line and unemployment is greater than 50 percent. Peter Hanson, UNRWA commissioner-general, asked Israeli authorities to lift the restrictions, saying, "Israel's legitimate and serious security concerns will not be served by hindering the emergency work of the United Nations."

After a nearly three-year drought across southern Africa, rainfall may be too late and sparse for crops to flourish in Swaziland. Lutheran Development Services provides food, tanks to store rainwater, training in growing drought-resistant crops, and food and care for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Saying the Lutheran World Federation is "funded by America," a Maoist rebel leader reportedly claimed responsibility for bombing an LWF-World Service office in Dhangadhi, Nepal, April 27. The explosion killed two bombers and damaged the building. Acting LWF General Secretary Sven Oppegaard said the bombing is "only a small snapshot of the worsening security situation in Nepal." Nepal has seen unrest since June 2001, when King Gyanendra assumed power. About 148,000 people in remote Himalayan areas depend on LWF aid.

Interchurch partnerships are necessary but one partner can’t make decisions for the other, Bishop Siegfried Springer said at an annual meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia. Springer’s church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States. ELCA member Eva Mader represented the Northwest Washington Synod, the Russian church’s companion synod partner, at the meeting. “We have the same faith and similar weaknesses,” she said. Participants also remember Stalinist persecution in the former Soviet Union, which imprisoned or executed many church members, including about 200 Lutheran pastors.

President Bush’s April 1 signing of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act received mixed reactions from religious leaders. Groups such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said the law makes into public policy a particular religious viewpoint “that a fertilized egg or fetus at any stage of development is a ‘child,’ ” while the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-life Activities and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission praised the act.

The Lutheran Literature Society for the Chinese says 30,000 copies of the Book of Concord are now available in Chinese for Protestant seminarians and pastors. The three-volume collection contains the creeds, Luther’s catechisms, the Augsburg Confession and other Lutheran theological documents. The International Lutheran Laymen’s League funded the project.


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