COVID-19 leaves Nepalese churches leaderless

A surge in COVID-19 cases in Nepal has taken the lives of more than 130 pastors, leaving churches leaderless and struggling to find a ‘second-in-line’.

Pastor, theologian and leader of the Janajagaran Party Nepal, BP Khanal told Christianity Today that pastors were dying almost every day at the height of the second COVID-19 wave in May, which washed over the country after causing devastation in India.

His records indicate that more than 500 pastors and their families contracted the virus. In multiple cases, the lives of fathers and sons who led churches together were lost.

Chairman of the National Church Fellowship of Nepal, Hanok Tamang added that many churches face financial difficulty due to income

loss as a result of the pandemic in addition to a vacuum in leadership. Meanwhile, the country is already bracing for a third wave, Tamang told Christianity Today. “We need to pray for Nepal. We really need to see Nepal recovered and restored again.”

Author – Ramona Humphreys

Northern Nigerian Baptists mourn for abducted students

More than 100 students were abducted from a Baptist boarding high school in Northern Nigeria, where school abductions have become increasingly common. Tragically, the United Nations (UN) estimates that more than 950 students have been kidnapped from the area since December 2020.

In the early hours of the morning on 5 July, armed assailants broke through the walls of Bethel Baptist High School in Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna, overcame security guards and captured students in the school hostel at gunpoint. The Kaduna State Commissioner of Police reported most of the 135 students abducted that night remain in captivity, with only 25 students and a teacher having been rescued at the time of writing.

President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Israel Akanji told Christianity Today that not all hope was lost as search and rescue operations by the Nigerian military were still ongoing.

“We strongly believe that, by the grace of God, these students will safely return to their parents soon,” Mr Akanji said.

General secretary and CEO of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), Rev. Elijah Brown also spoke with Christianity Today.

“Today is a day of mourning, as we grieve over what is the most serious attack and greatest tragedy to impact the Baptist community in Nigeria,” he said.

The BWA ranks Nigeria as the world’s second-most vulnerable country for Baptists on its latest Baptist Vulnerability Index which assesses four key factors (hunger, livelihood, violent conflict and religious freedom challenges). Nigeria also ranks ninth in Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and leads the list in the number of kidnapped Christians.

According to the UN Children’s Agency, UNICEF, this was the fourth abduction of students in Central and Northern Nigeria in the past six months alone. The number of mass abductions from Nigerian schools has grown significantly since 2014 when Boko Haram abducted 276 students from a government school in Chibok, northeast Nigeria.

“I urge all of us to advocate, work for strengthened good governance throughout the Middle Belt and to fervently stand in prayer for these young people who are right now living through this horrific trauma,” Rev. Brown told Christianity Today.

“Their release and restoration is the first priority, and our prayers remain with them and their families who are bearing enormous grief.”

Author – Ramona Humphreys

Atheists in Kenya Secretary resigns after finding Jesus

The Atheists in Kenya Society’s (AIK) Secretary, Seth Mahiga resigned in late May, stating that he had accepted Jesus Christ into his life.

Seth announced in church that he had accepted the Lord as his saviour, and AIK posted a statement from its President, Harrison Mumia, to their Twitter account breaking the news to their 7,000 followers.

“This evening, regretfully, the Secretary of the Atheists in Kenya Society, Mr Seth Mahiga, informed me that he has made the decision to resign from his position as Secretary of the society.”

“Seth’s reason for resigning is that he has found Jesus Christ and is no longer interested in promoting atheism in Kenya.”

“We wish Seth all the best in his new-found relationship with Jesus Christ. We thank him for having served the society with dedication over the last one and half years.”

AIK is an atheist organisation registered under the Societies Act in Kenya and in February 2016 was the first non-religious society to be registered. Their mission is to promote the growth and interaction of atheists in Kenya.

Open Doors and prayers bring solace to Myanmar

A church in Kayan Thar Yar village in Myanmar was attacked by the country’s army in May, while approximately 300 people were sheltering inside. One of a series of ongoing attacks since the coup began in February, the army collapsed the roof, killing four people and injuring several others.

This is just one of several attacks as conflict between the military and the People’s Defence Force continues.

A Baptist church in Yangon was also targeted, with the military destroying the building and allegedly beating three men, including the pastor. A

local partner of Open Doors spoke of the attack. “The pastor’s son was allegedly accused of stealing a gun from the military. This angered the soldiers and they chased after him, arrested him and then destroyed the church property,” they said.

Open Doors and 25 other organisations belonging to the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) have released a statement expressing their concern about the notable increase in religious freedom violations since the military coup took place.

“We are troubled that military control has the potential to exacerbate religious persecution and intolerance, as we continue to hear of rising Buddhist nationalism and attacks on houses of worship,” the statement said.

Since the military seized power, alleging that the National League for Democracy’s landslide election victory in November 2020 was fraudulent, thousands of civilians have taken to the streets in protest.

In what has been described as a ruthless clampdown, at least 860 people have been killed and over 4,800 arrested. The RLP calls the coup illegal, saying it “disrespects the expressed will of the peoples of Myanmar.”

"... every day is lived in tremendous fear."

Churches have been raided because of activities the military considers unlawful, including the sheltering of anti-coup activists, and pastors have been forced into hiding having shown opposition to the coup.

Meanwhile, the ongoing restrictions have left ethnic religious minorities even more vulnerable. Thousands have fled their homes.

“For those who are unable to escape, every day is lived in tremendous fear,” the RLP said.

“No fewer than 100,000 people – including from the primarily Christian Kachin and Karenni, many Christians among the Karen, as well as the Shan and others – are residing in camps for internally displaced people.”

Christians in Myanmar are fearful for their safety and the future, but have found prayers of believers around the world an enormous support, making a tangible difference to their lives and reminding them that they are not alone.

“Our life has been full of fear, anxiety and distress since the coup,” Brother Hermon* shared.

“Amid the terrorising coup, we have experienced God’s presence in our personal lives.”

“Me and my family would like to say thank you for your prayer support – now we can see His tender care and mercy.”

* Name has been changed for security reasons.

Baptist World Congress goes virtual … together

More than 4,000 Baptists from over 140 countries gathered in July for the 22nd Baptist World Congress.

Held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Congress was the Baptist World Alliance’s (BWA) most globally diverse gathering in its 116 year history. With content offered in multiple languages, Congress participants engaged in worship, prayer, fellowship and Bible study around the theme, TOGETHER. The Director of Global Partnerships and Unity, Julie Justus shared her excitement about the gathering. “We are so pleased that the 22nd Baptist World Congress is truly a global event! With participants from more than 140 countries and territories, we will be together from every corner of the world.”

“This Congress is about being TOGETHER and we know that it will be a taste of heaven on earth,” Julie said. Through the financial support of State Unions, including Baptist Churches Western Australia, Australian Baptist Ministries was able to offer free Congress registrations to any Baptist in Australia. To help international participants connect, more than 40 Global Connection Groups were formed focusing on areas of mutual interest, with small groups creating space to hear each other’s testimonies and insights around given topics.

Director of Global Events and Fellowship, Carolina Mangieri reflected on the event. “The highlight of the Congress is to be able to bring people together, which opens the opportunity for relationship building, ministry commitments and partnership creation.” “Worshipping and praying in many languages is a beautiful experience – every nation and tribe, every people and language standing in front of the throne of God,” Carolina said.

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