Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
Nuclear Threat Hangs over Relief Efforts in Japan
The scope of devastation in Japan following Friday's earthquake and resulting tsunami is "unparalleled" in any modern country, one Christian aid leader told Mission News Network. Peter Howard with Food For the Hungry (FH) said relief efforts are also complicated by the ongoing threat from two of Japan's nuclear plants, which have cut some people off from relief during the freezing nights. "Several of those have started to have explosions which are releasing some nuclear material into the air, and that's causing great concern in the region," Howard said. "That's the issue that they keep bringing up as one of their biggest concerns and fears." Transportation is still extremely tricky in many locations, and downed communication lines have slowed coordination efforts. Still, Howard says his group is working hard to reach local churches and ministries with supplies to provide for the larger population.
Blasphemy Prisoner in Pakistan Found Dead in Prison Cell
A Christian convicted on blasphemy charges last year was found dead yesterday in his prison cell before his appeal could be heard. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that church leaders and human rights activists are skeptical about Qamar David's official cause of death, listed by prison authorities as a heart attack. Qamar David had been in jail since 2002, following an accusation of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. A sessions court in Karachi sentenced him to life imprisonment in February 2010, six years after the original accusation, and his lawyer has been seeking an appeal hearing since that time. Qamar David’s lawyer has always maintained that the allegations were spurious, triggered by a business rivalry, and that the conviction was the result of pressure from local religious clerics and their supporters. Both he and his client have experienced threats or violence from mobs at nearly every court hearing in this case.
Japan's Christians Pray, Muster Funds for Relief
Baptist Press reports that Japanese Christians gathered in churches and Bible studies Sunday to pray for those still missing after the March 11 earthquake, now listed as 9.0 in magnitude, and tsunami. In one service, believers spent the entire service praying for friends and family by name, as well as collecting an offering for disaster relief. Christians comprise less than one percent of the population in Japan. With most stores and gas stations closed, the main task for many in the hardest-hit areas Sunday was just getting by. Scores lined up at the few gas stations and grocery stores that were open. International Mission Board missionary Sharon Bennett said shelves were largely empty amid the rush to get food. A Baptist disaster relief assessment team is on the ground evaluating needs and opportunities for response.
ELCA Missionaries Returning to Egypt
Missionaries evacuated from Cairo at the beginning of February are slowly returning to Egypt, including six missionaries from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Ten missionaries were temporarily evacuated from Cairo Feb. 1 on flights arranged by the U.S. government due to protests against the government of former President Hosni Mubarak. ELCA leaders at the churchwide organization in Chicago made the decision about the missionaries' return after two ELCA staff members visited Cairo last week. "After being present in Egypt with our Egyptian Christian companions and the refugee communities accompanied through St. Andrew's, I am very pleased that our ELCA missionaries are able to return to the context," said Rev. Dr. Robert O. Smith, ELCA area program director for the Middle East. "I know that every one of our evacuated mission personnel is eager to return home to Egypt so they can resume the work to which God has called them in that place."