PODCAST: 2021 graduating class of the NES in Lebanon is entirely Shiite Muslim (ICH 06.19.21)

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According to Christianity Today,  The 2021 graduating class of the National Evangelical School in Nabatieh, Lebanon is entirely Shiite Muslim. While certainly not the image of a typical Christian school in the United States, it is hardly an outlier in Lebanon, where 35 evangelical schools average student bodies that are two-thirds Muslim. Located 35 miles south of Beirut, Nabatieh originally had a 10 percent Christian population when American Presbyterian missionary Lewis Loe founded the school in 1925. Based in the city’s Christian quarter, NESN drew students from all sects until the civil war drove the once integrated communities apart. From 1978 to 1982, Israeli occupation forced the school to close altogether. When the city was attacked again during the 2006 war, the school’s bomb shelter gave refuge to frightened children. Relative peace since then has allowed the shelter to become a storage room, but less than 40 Christian families remain in the city. Even so, NESN draws from surrounding villages to maintain a Christian share of 10 percent among its 100-some faculty. But the new crisis facing Lebanon is financial. Year-end inflation for 2020 was 145 percent, as food prices surged over 400 percent. The World Bank judged the economic collapse to be one of the world’s three worst in the last 150 years. Teacher salaries have lost nearly 90 percent of their value. Three years ago, NESN’s 100-foot Christmas tree was Lebanon’s largest. This year—as debt equaled the entire operational budget minus teacher salary—the school could not afford even the Charlie Brown version. A highlight of the school calendar, Christian elements are welcomed by the local Shiite population—including its substantial number of Hezbollah-affiliated families, said principal Shadi El-Hajjar.  Since he assumed leadership in 2013, the student body of 1,400 has more than doubled. “We teach compassion, forgiveness, and love of enemies,” Hajjar said, “but as culture and practice, not religion. “This makes us unique, and draws people to the school.”

According to Religion News Service, Pope Francis demanded Sunday that humanitarian aid reach hungry people in the war-torn Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers are blocking food deliveries and other assistance. Francis called for an immediate end to the fighting in Tigray, the return of social harmony and for “all food aid and health care assistance to be guaranteed.” Speaking at his Sunday noon blessing, Francis said he was thinking of the people of Tigray who have been “struck by a grave humanitarian crisis that has exposed the poorest to famine. Today there is famine! There is hunger!” The United Nations and aid groups say more than 350,000 people in Tigray face famine and 2 million more are a step away from the worst famine since 2011 in Somalia. Farmers, aid workers and local officials say food has been turned into a weapon of war, with soldiers blocking or stealing food aid. More than 2 million of Tigray’s 6 million people have already fled, unable to harvest their crops. The war in Tigray started in November, shortly before the harvest season, as an attempt by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to disarm the region’s rebellious leaders. On one side are guerrillas loyal to the ousted and now-fugitive leaders of Tigray. On the other are Ethiopian government troops, allied troops from neighboring Eritrea and militias from Ethiopia’s Amhara ethnic group who see themselves as rivals to the Tigrayan guerillas.

According to Christianity Today, Pastor Ed Litton, championed by supporters as a force for gospel unity and racial reconciliation, was elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), overtaking the candidate backed by a passionate faction of conservatives. Litton’s election is seen as a signal of the direction of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, where infighting has broken out over approaches to race, abuse, and other issues while the Conservative Baptist Network raises alarms about liberal drift and “woke” theology. The close race also reveals how much ground the vocal group has come to hold in the SBC within a year and a half of its founding. “This vote … shows we desire a leader whose character, humility, and voice for unity represents us a whole over those who call for division,” said Jacki King, who serves on the steering committee for the SBC Women’s Leadership Network. In a race with no clear frontrunner at a convention with a 25-year-high turnout of more than 15,000 messengers, Litton won out over Mike Stone, a pastor endorsed by fellow Conservative Baptist Network leaders, and Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Critics of the new network worried that if Stone won, that could cause the denomination to divide on political lines. They were also concerned about leaked letters alleging he resisted abuse response efforts while chair as the Executive Committee. Stone secured the highest level of support among candidates in the first round of voting and won 48 percent to Litton’s 52 percent in a runoff. Litton is expected to carry on the priorities set forth by outgoing president J.D. Greear and said he would continue Greear’s efforts to appoint women and people of color to denominational committees. Both Litton and Greear use an approved alternate name for Southern Baptists, Great Commission Baptists, as a way to signify a commitment to mission over regional identity.

According to Religion News Service, A rift between conservative American bishops and the Vatican could be laid bare on June 16 as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets amid talk of a growing divide in the church over Pope Francis’ leadership. During the virtual event, U.S. bishops are expected to approve a motion to begin drafting a document on “Eucharistic coherence” that would exclude Catholic political figures who support abortion rights from receiving Communion. If they do proceed, the bishops will have opened a breach with Pope Francis and the Vatican, which has all but instructed the bishops not to go ahead with the motion. They would also be putting the Catholic Church in the United States in unprecedented territory regarding its relationship with the wider Catholic community. It all stems from a dilemma President Joe Biden poses for Catholic bishops. Many prominent Roman Catholics in public life – including Democrats such as Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – support abortion rights. Yet the Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is the taking of a human life, no different from murder, and so grave a sin that it incurs an automatic excommunication. This has led some bishops to grow concerned that a contradictory picture of Catholic faith is being presented to the public. Their response is a pastoral statement on “Eucharistic coherence” that would instruct Catholics about when they should and should not receive Communion. The effect of that document would be to exclude Catholics like Biden and Pelosi from full participation in the church. Communion, also known as the Eucharist, is the central act of Roman Catholic worship, in which Catholics receive bread and wine that they believe becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Church law particularly excludes from taking Communion those who are guilty of what is known as “manifest grave sin.” This means no one who has committed a serious sin in a way that is publicly visible should receive Communion. The bishops argue that in supporting abortion rights, Democrats like Joe Biden have made themselves unsuitable to take Communion.

According to Christianity Today, Andrea Dugan, the superintendent of Mountainview Christian School in Indonesia, was on vacation last year when she found out from a local newspaper that one of her students was hospitalized with a suspected case of COVID-19, among the first in the area. She returned home to Indonesia to extend the school’s quarter break before eventually making the call for her 210 students to go virtual for the remainder of the semester, just days before the Indonesian government closed all schools. Virtual learning continued through the 2020–2021 school year, with just four in-person weeks in the spring before rising cases sent them back to the screens. From March to May, she remembers feeling “flooded with adrenaline” as she kept up with local government orders and ran the school while also ensuring her own children learned online. “We’re the international school,” she said. “We’re going to be seen. Whatever we do, people are going to know.” For Dugan, leading a Christian international school meant that following government orders and strict COVID-19 protocols with integrity mattered not just for safety but as a witness to the local community. Multiple school families returned to the United States in March after the local US embassy strongly encouraged all citizens to leave the country. They’re still unable to return to Indonesia. Limited visas are also blocking new staff from coming for the next school year. “Even though I have teachers intending to join my staff come August, I’m holding my breath to know whether or not I can actually legally get them in the country because [of] the visa process,” Dugan said. “How do I staff my school next year if I can’t physically get people in the country?”

According to Premier Christian News, The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been asked if he believes in God, leading to him to quote from the Psalms. Speaking on a beach in Cornwall at the G7 summit, ITV’s Robert Peston asked Boris Johnson whether he is now a practising Roman Catholic, having recently married in Westminster Cathedral. The Prime Minister replied: “I don’t discuss these deep issues, certainly not with you”. Peston laughed and followed up by saying that Sir Keir Starmer has said he does not believe in God, and asking whether Mr Johnson did. The Prime Minister paused then referenced Psalm 14: “the foolish man has said in his heart there is no God”. Peston accepted his answer and finished the interview.

According to Religion News Service, Pope Francis refused Thursday to accept the resignation offered by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx over the sex abuse scandal in the church, but said a process of reform was necessary and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis. Francis wrote a letter to Marx in response to the German’s bombshell announcement last week that he had offered to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church’s mishandling of abuse cases. Francis refused to accept the resignation and told Marx in the letter he must continue as archbishop. Francis said what was necessary instead was a process of reform “that doesn’t consist in words but attitudes that have the courage of putting oneself in crisis, of assuming reality regardless of the consequences.” Francis’ letter, written originally in Spanish and using an informal, brotherly tone, appeared to give Marx papal backing to proceed with the German Church’s controversial reform process that was launched as a response to the abuse crisis and reports into the German hierarchy’s mishandling of abuse cases over decades. The so-called “Synodal Path” reform process has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on issues such as priestly celibacy, women’s role in the church and homosexuality. Resistance has also come from the Vatican and bishops outside Germany, including culture warriors in the United States who have broken with church protocol to pen essays critical of the German reform process.

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!