The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• Lutheran parishes in Lahti, Finland, offer pastoral care to youth via cellular phone text-messaging. Young people can use their mobile phones to send a text message to a phone number where it is saved and answered in the evenings by trained volunteers. The service provides an opportunity for the young to discuss problems anonymously or receive the name of a professional for further help.

More than 300 people in central and northern Malawi died of starvation because of the worst famine in 50 years. Many children are malnourished and the death toll is expected to rise. Heavy rains earlier this year, a spring drought, and last year’s floods and cyclones contributed to a poor harvest. Calling for an urgent response from the international community, the Evangelical Lutheran Development Program is distributing food to families and malnourished children in Karanga, Photombe and Chikwawa. The food crisis is so severe that primary schools were reportedly closed because pupils were too weak to attend classes.

• Eighty U.S. organizations, including Lutheran World Relief, sent a March 12 letter asking President Bush to ban land mines and “renounce this weapon of terror that does not discriminate between soldiers and children.” The United States isn’t among the 140 nations that signed the international Mine Ban Treaty. Land mines annually kill or injure 20,000 people, mostly civilians.

Terrorists threw grenades into a March 17 worship service at Protestant International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. Five people were killed, including the wife and daughter of an American diplomat. Forty-one people were injured. At presstime it was not known if the attackers were among those injured or killed.

More than 700 people were killed in Gujarat, India, after violence erupted between Hindus and Muslims Feb. 28. The violence was triggered by an attack on a train carrying Hindu activists, where 58 people were killed. The government placed police on alert and pled for restraint, fearing a repeat of the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh violence that killed nearly 1 million at the nation’s birth 54 years ago. The current violence and tension has slowed down rehabilitation efforts after the 2001 earthquake, said Action by Churches Together, an ecumenical relief partner agency of the ELCA.

Ethiopian and Eritrean religious leaders affirmed their commitment to work toward peace March 15, in their first meeting since a 1998 border dispute. Representatives of Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Muslim faiths commended their governments for being willing to work toward peace. Iteffa Gobena, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church Mekane Yesus, and Ogbarebi Hbites, president of the Evangelica’ [Lutheran] Church of Eritrea, said such peace meetings were significant in building relationships and sustaining peace between the two countries.

• The Florida motor vehicle department reversed a decision preventing Steven Miles of Gainesville, Fla., from keeping vanity license plates that read “ATHEIST.” A department supervisor, who received complaints about the plate from residents, had told Miles to remove the plate. In the last three years, the department has removed 57 tags, including “SONAGOD,” “YOMAMA” and “INSANE.”

• About 700,000 people in Central America will face a famine if their countries don’t get enough rain, reported World Food Programme officials. Last year, thousands in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua went hungry during a two-month drought. The Lutheran World Federation is running disaster-preparedness programs to help families in villages like Antiguo Tepetitan, El Salvador, prevent crop damage.

• Pope John Paul II issued his first response to the growing pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in a 22-page letter March 21. “Grave scandal is caused” by the “sins of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination,” he wrote. The result, he added, is that “a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice.” The pope also accepted the resignation of Anthony O’Connell, the bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., who admitted he’d sexually molested a teenaged boy 25 years ago. O’Connell’s predecessor, J. Keith Symons, also resigned in 1998 following pedophilia charges.

• A LeMoyne College/Zogby International poll of 1,507 U.S. Roman Catholics found that only7 percent of parishioners planned to leave the church over the pedophilia scandal. But 56 percent said bishops had done a bad job handling the scandal, and 83 percent said they were likely to believe molestation charges against priests. One in 11 said they personally knew of a child sexually abused by a priest.

• At a March 14 meeting in Washington, D.C.,religious and faith-based group leaders urged a more generous welfare program and criticized President Bush’s welfare reform proposal as too little. Kay Bengston, assistant director for public policy advocacy ministry, Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, said the proposal “does not increase the block grant, does not increase any funding for child care, and yet it increases the amount of work that is expected.” Citing a 2001 survey that says 89 percent of Lutheran pastors and service providers felt child-care was the most urgent need of current or recent welfare recipients, she asked, “Without more money, how in heaven’s name can we support those families?”

Episcopal Church bishops, meeting March 7-12 near Houston, approved allowing conservative parishes at odds with more liberal bishops to receive temporary “pastoral care” from like-minded bishops outside their diocese. Conservatives who feel the church is pushing homosexuality and women’s ordination against their will asked for the move to keep the church from splitting. At a meeting of Anglican world leaders last year, conservative bishops in developing nations urged the U.S. church to find a way to provide “sustained pastoral care” to conservatives who feel alienated.”

After a series of earthquake shocks hit the Baghlan and Samagan provinces in northern Afghanistan, Lutheran World Relief sent an initial $20,000 for relief. Government sources in Kabul estimate 20,000 people were left homeless. Lutheran World Relief assistance to Afghanistan totaled $1.25 million in material aid and cash grants at presstime.

Augusta Victoria Hospital, a Lutheran World Federation facility in Jerusalem, is sending doctors to refugee camps and stationing ambulances in the West Bank to improve the odds for patients who can’t get past Irsraeli checkpoints to reach the hospital. “It was difficult enough to work before,” said Craig Kippels, hospital staff. “Now it has become very, very difficult, incredibly difficult. Staff cannot get to the hospital to take care of patients and patients cannot get to the hospital for care.” In related news, Israel’s “Rabbis for Human Rights” urged the Israeli government to allow sick and wounded Palestinians access to medical services in West Bank towns and cities under Israeli siege.

Lutheran Services in America and four other social service agencies, including the Salvation Army, endorsed Feb. 22 a Senate compromise bill that would allow religious groups to apply for government funding, expand tax incentives for charitable giving and give faith-based groups technical assistance with grant-writing and setting up tax-exempt structures. The bill would not include controversial provisions of President Bush’s faith-based initiative that allows religious groups to discriminate in hiring.

Lutheran World Relief issued an appeal for emergency aid for more than 20,000 Liberians who are fleeing renewed fighting between government forces and rebels.


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February issue


Embracing diversity