PODCAST: Gunmen Kill at Least 137 in Niger (International Christian Herald 3.27.21)

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According to the Associated Press, Gunmen aboard motorcycles have attacked a series of villages near Niger’s troubled border with Mali, leaving at least 137 people dead in the deadliest violence to strike the African country in recent memory, the government announced Monday. The latest village massacres come amid a dangerous escalation in attacks following the election of Niger’s new president, Mohamed Bazoum, several weeks ago. Government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria confirmed the latest killings took place Sunday, the same day Niger’s Constitutional Court officially declared Bazoum as the winner of February’s election. He is due to take office on April 2 amid a rapidly deteriorating situation in Niger, long destabilized by the Islamic insurgency in neighboring Mali.

According to Christianity Today, More than 65 years after two of its alumni were killed in what became the most famous example of missionary martyrdom in the 20th century, Wheaton College wants to tell a better story to honor their work. Wheaton president Philip Ryken announced this week that a plaque honoring alumni Jim Elliot and Ed McCully along with Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming has been taken down from the campus chapel while a task force meets to suggest new phrasing to remove the word “savage.” Elliot and McCully graduated from Wheaton in 1949. The five men were killed in January 1956 after making peaceful contact with the isolated and hostile indigenous group in Ecuador. The following year, their classmates donated the plaque, which includes relief images of Elliot and McCully. In describing the tribe, then called “Aucas” (“savage” in the lowland Quichua language), the plaque reads, “For generations all strangers were killed by these savage indians.” Contemporary accounts of the mission now refer to the tribe by the name they call themselves, Waorani. In his emailed statement, Ryken said the term “savage” is a pejorative term that “has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat indigenous peoples around the world. Any descriptions on our campus of people or people groups should reflect the full dignity of human beings made in the image of God.” Ryken and other members of Wheaton leadership have received about a dozen comments about the plaque this school year from students and members of the campus community, said Joseph Moore, Wheaton’s director of marketing communications. He said the president released the statement because the plaque has been temporarily removed, and leadership wanted the campus community to “know about its review, rewording, and return.” The change comes at a time when Gen Z Christians are rethinking the church’s historical approach to international missions. Last year, a Barna study found that 38 percent of adults under 35 agreed with the statement, “in the past, missions work has been unethical,” compared with 23 percent of older adults.

The Christian Post, The world’s leading Bible translation agencies have united to “eradicate Bible poverty” in this generation by making Scripture available in every language by the year 2033 as half of the world’s languages still lack a complete translation. The “I Want to Know” campaign was launched Wednesday in time for the Easter season and is spearheaded by illumiNations, an alliance of Bible translations organizations. The initiative aims to make at least a portion of Scripture available in every language within the next 12 years. Of the more than 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, over 3,800 have little or no Scripture translated. The 10 Bible translation partners include the American Bible Society, Biblica, Deaf Bible Society, Lutheran Bible Translators, Seed Company, SIL International, United Bible Societies, The Word for the World, Pioneer Bible Translators and Wycliffe Bible Translators USA. Mart Green, the ministry investment officer of Hobby Lobby, said the partnership provides collaboration and a centralized database that allows them to accomplish more together than they could apart. “None of our ministry partners can say that they are going to eradicate Bible poverty with their organization,” Green told The Christian Post in an interview. “But when we come together, [they] can now say that because they have nine other teammates.”

According to Religion News Service, Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Iraq in early March was received as a symbol of hope by the neighboring population in Syria, which just entered its 10th year of war exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Catholic envoys and charity workers. “Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq was of great hope for Syrians,” said Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican envoy to Syria, during an online news conference on Tuesday (March 23). Zenari said that struggles in Syria have “completely disappeared from the radars of the media” and been largely overlooked by the outside world in recent months. But Pope Francis remembers them, he said. “Syria is far from being forgotten by the pope,” he said. A visit by Pope Francis is not to be excluded, he added, “as soon as circumstances allow.”Francis was the first pope ever to visit Iraq; during the trip March 5-8, he made an appeal for peace and interreligious dialogue while encouraging the local Christian population to rebuild their homes and communities. After the political uprisings across the Middle East in 2011, known as the Arab Spring, Syrians rose in opposition against President Bashar Assad. That set in motion a bloody civil war that included the involvement of countries such as the United States, Russia, Turkey and Israel. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 380,000 people have died because of the war as of January 2020.

According to Christianity Today, Until her death last month at the age of 63, Bolivian attorney Ruth Montaño had done perhaps more than any living person to advance the rights of religious minorities in her Andean homeland. A specialist in constitutional law and permanent legal counsel to the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB), the Cochabamba-based lawyer spent more than two decades defending Christian believers and congregations against discrimination and injustice. Her greatest professional accomplishment was undoubtedly the passage in September 2019 of Religious Liberty Law 1161. Montaño served as chief legal architect of the landmark legislation, “one of the greatest achievements of the evangelical church and ANDEB in our country’s history with respect to religious freedom,” said ANDEB president Munir Chiquie. The product of nine years of research, litigation, and negotiation with the government of former president Evo Morales, the law guarantees the independence of churches and other faith communities from government interference in their internal affairs. The law prevents secular officials from dictating how non-Catholic churches must organize their activities, choose leaders, and manage their finances. It also reestablishes the right of churches and mission organizations to open and maintain schools, clinics, and other holistic social ministries—a right that had been denied them for nearly a decade.

According to Religion News Service, Pope Francis’ efforts to build a “poor church for the poor” got a little closer to becoming a reality on Wednesday (March 24) when he issued pay cuts for Vatican clergy and employees to aid the Holy See’s struggling finances, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a decree, or motu proprio, Pope Francis decreased the salary of Vatican cardinals by 10%. The heads of Vatican departments and secretaries will have their salary reduced by 8%, while the wages for priests and religious will be decreased by 3%. Cardinals who work in the offices and departments that make up the Roman Curia are paid between $5,300 and $6,000 a month. Other cardinals’ and bishops’ salaries are regulated by the local dioceses and can vary greatly, depending on the country. Salaries for Vatican priests and religious tend to be considerably lower, roughly $1,400. Popes in the Catholic Church do not receive a salary. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis took a vow of poverty, which means that he may not receive a fixed income. Pontiffs can rely on Peter’s Pence, a global fund of donations by Catholic faithful, to finance their charitable works.The new measures will be applied indefinitely, starting on April 1. All seniority-linked salary raises have been blocked until 2023, the Vatican document states.

According to Christianity Today, American Catholics are signaling a dramatic surge in concern about the persecuted church. And prayer, alone, is no longer good enough, as more say money and arms are needed too. Asked their opinion about Christian persecution worldwide in the fourth annual survey by Aid to the Church in Need–USA (ACNUSA), 67 percent stated they were “very concerned.” Last year, only 52 percent said the same. Similarly, 57 percent stated the level of persecution suffered by Christians is “very severe.” Last year, only 41 percent said the same. The increase is “heartening,” said George Marlin, ACNUSA chairman. “Christian persecution around the world is very grave,” he said. “[Catholics] want both their church and their government to step up efforts to do more.” They have already been praying: 7 in 10 stated prayer is a “very important” initiative to help—the same share as last year, and up from 64 percent in the first survey in 2018. But now, 62 percent say it is “very important” to donate to agencies that support the persecuted, up from 53 percent last year. Half say they are “very likely” to do so, up from 35 percent. And 61 percent say they gave within the last year, up from 53 percent in 2020.

In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!