Category Archives: Causes

News and information on The Underground about causes and the Christian church should take up or have on its radar.

Palestinian Church Forced Out of Building in East Jerusalem, Israel

Palestinian Church Forced Out Of Building In East Jerusalem

ISTANBUL (Morning Star News)  Seven years of harassment and attacks by hard-line Muslims have finally forced a Palestinian church in East Jerusalem out of their building, church leaders said.

The congregation of Calvary Baptist Church, under Holy Land Missions, moved out of their building in the Shofat area of Jerusalem in July after Islamists threatened their landlord. They are looking for a safer, more permanent place to meet.

Pastor Steven Khoury said he was emotionally torn when he handed over the keys. The persecution was difficult but had also been a catalyst for spiritual development, he said.

“It was very emotional, because a lot of our people really started to grow there,” he said. “Most of the growth happened in Shofat because of the persecution.”

The persecution started almost immediately after the congregation moved into the building in a predominantly Muslim area in 2007.

Within 10 days of starting meetings and worship services, a Muslim who lived close to the church building attacked a member with a knife. Then someone tried to set the building on fire, likely with a Molotov cocktail, Khoury said.

“It only burned a few of our playground sets and didn’t reach the building,” he said.

Next came the vandalism – first cars parked at the church building were damaged, then the property, and finally there were physical attacks on children coming to church gatherings.

Palestinian Church Forced Out of Building in East Jerusalem, Israel

Pastor Steven Khoury preaching at service at Garden Tomb in 2007. (Courtesy of Steven Khoury)

“These were all spread out over a two- or three-year period, to let us know that we were not welcome there,” Khoury said.

When the local government accepted a request in late 2008 to put up a road sign identifying the location of the church building, things “really escalated,” Khoury said.

“When we did that, it took everything to the next level. The landlords were now being threatened. The landlords were being told, ‘How dare you do this, this is a disgrace to Islam. If you don’t do anything about this, we will.’”

Eventually the landlord succumbed to the pressure, and the 110-member congregation had to leave the building.

The departure last month was not the first time Muslims angry about their activities have forced the Jerusalem congregation to leave a building they were using for ministry. It has happened twice before.

In 2006, Holy Land Missions had to leave a building in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem, which, like Shofat, is a Muslim-majority area. In 2004, when the group rented the building, church vehicles were vandalized, a sign identifying the church was torn down twice and the building was subjected to repeated vandalism and break-ins, Khoury said. By comparison, Khoury doesn’t remember any other building near the church property being vandalized.

Church administrator Hany Khayo said persecution has been constant.

“I have been here since 2004, and every day we have a story,” Khayo said.

Especially disheartening to the congregation was the response they received from clergy of “traditional” Christian denominations such as the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox.

“Some of those [pressures] in the community were from traditional Christians, believe it or not,” he said. “Traditional Christians did not want us there. They said, ‘You guys are not Christians. What Christianity do you represent? If you’re not an official church, then God doesn’t hear your prayers.’”

A well-known phenomenon in the Middle East rarely discussed openly, centuries-old churches accuse evangelical Christians of “sheep stealing” when they arrive to establish churches. Paradoxically, hard-line Muslims tend to be more tolerant of the ancient churches because of the perception that they do not engage in evangelism, whereas evangelical denominations, by definition, actively spread the message of Christ. Any missionary activity brings them into direct conflict with Muslims.

“[They persecute us] because we believe in one God, because we believe that Jesus is our Lord and we ask everyone to have God’s love,” Khayo said.

Eventually the landlord of the Beit Hanina building began receiving threats from his fellow Muslims, and the church had to leave after only two years.

Paying the Price

The Beit Hanina congregation was Khoury’s second attempt to plant a church in Jerusalem.

When he was an adolescent his father, a convert from Islam and a pastor, ministered in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. During that time, Khoury’s uncle, George Khoury, showed the need for a church in East Jerusalem. He would also display the power that a church body can have on people’s lives, changing young Khoury’s life forever.

In the mid-1990s, George Khoury was a stocky, 6-foot-6 man known to be a trouble-maker with anger issues. He was also a Muslim. Young Khoury’s father invited him to a three-day prayer conference.

“When we invited him, the first thing he said to us is, ‘Will there be free food?’” Khoury said. “At the end of the three-day conference, my Uncle George – big man, tall guy, anger problems, liked very few people and very few people liked him because he was just a trouble-maker – on the third day of the conference in the Sea of Galilee, he accepted Christ as his personal savior.”

On the way back from the conference, George Khoury made an abrupt announcement:  “We need to have this in Jerusalem.”

“When he said, ‘We need to have this,’ what he meant was that he wanted the fellowship, the Bible and the spiritual growth,” Khoury said. “He wanted that, he just didn’t know the lingo for it was called ‘church.’”

Khoury said about two years passed, and his uncle quickly became a different man. He was the inspiration for the church established by the elder Khoury in Wadi al-Joz in East Jerusalem. His favorite Bible verse was Matthew 16:25, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

The verse became prophetic when a neighbor began frantically knocking on George Khoury’s door as he sat in his house one night. Some Muslims in Wadi al-Joz were trying to take an elderly man’s house from him by force. George Khoury took him into his house to protect him, and then walked outside to face the group of Muslims and stop the attack. It was the last thing he would do.

“He barely walked outside his doorstep, and the same men that were attacking, chasing after the old man, saw my uncle walk out onto his doorstep,” Khoury said. “In our culture, when somebody ‘walks out’ – when you take somebody’s place – you’re basically responsible for that man’s life, and Uncle George was beaten to death with a metal rod by these men.”

He added, “When they were beating him, they were saying, ‘It’s okay, he’s a Christian.”

The elderly man survived the attack. Many years later, when he could talk about what happened, he told Khoury that his uncle had more peace in him that all those who killed him. When he died, the elderly man told Khoury, “The peace of Christ was upon his face.”

The Wadi al-Joz congregation rented a building to use as a church but was forced to leave it as well because of persecution.

“It was always being targeted for break-ins. We had multiple, a minimum of 10 break-ins,” Khoury said. “We were always being cut with glass because people would throw glass bottles inside the garden area. We’d fall and scrape our legs over the glass bottles and everything, but that was the reality of that church setting there.”

When the Wadi al-Joz congregation left the building, members tried to set up house churches but quickly found that didn’t work, Khoury said. Whereas converts and other Christians could go to a church building with some degree of safety and anonymity, it was nearly impossible to meet unnoticed in a house church because of the small, tightly knit community that defines Palestinian society.

“They did home meetings for a while, then that started to cause problems for people because many people live in apartment buildings, and the majority of the Arab community in Jerusalem, whether they be in the Old City or outside the Old City, are Muslim,” Khoury said. “So if you’re a Christian living in an apartment or you’re a Muslim who has received Christ, it’s going to be very dangerous for you to do worship – music and Bible teachings in your apartment. It became a struggle. It became a difficult thing to do because of threats and danger issues.”

Some of the original Wadi al-Joz members later joined other “above-ground” churches. Others left the country because of political problems and violence.

As a temporary measure, the Shofat church rents a meeting hall for a few hours, two times a week. They found a multi-story building they would like to buy for $3.5 million. The price of the building is high because of the incredibly competitive real estate market in Jerusalem, Khoury said.

“Because Jerusalem is the most sought-after city in the world by the three major religions in the world and land is so scarce, Jerusalem is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world,” he said. “We can’t get a loan because we don’t own anything in Israel. By faith we are asking the Lord to help us raise $3.5 million. We’ve been able to raise about $700,000 so far.”

In spite of all that happened to him and his congregation, Khoury said they are determined to stay in Jerusalem and do what he feels God has called them to do.

“I believe in being persistent, and I believe in holding your ground and standing strong,” he said. “I believe in the message so strongly I am willing to risk my life. Our members are willing to risk their lives by continuously coming to the same location. I believe still that people will see that we are committed just like they are in their religion, and we are willing to die for our faith just as they are as well.”

Woman in Yemen Burned to Death for Her Faith

Woman in Yemen Burned To Death For Her Faith

ISTANBUL (Morning Star News) – On the morning of June 9 in southern Yemen, Saeed woke to the sound of screaming. He shot out of bed, pushed panicked family members aside and saw his wife stumbling out of their kitchen, engulfed in flames.

His wife, Nazeera, had been preparing breakfast at about 9 a.m. when she poured liquid from a cooking oil bottle into a hot pan. The liquid flashed, and the bottle exploded. While her four children watched, screaming, Nazeera was being burned alive.

“I rushed out of the room,” Saeed (full name undisclosed for security reasons) told Morning Star News, weeping. “I couldn’t even speak to ask her what happened. All I could think about was putting the fire out and then getting her to the hospital. But my 16-year-old son, he couldn’t stop himself and held on to her, hugging her while she was burning. He got hurt, and I had to pull him away from her.”

About two weeks later, Nazeera, 33, died as a result of her burns. When Saeed returned to his home in a village (undisclosed for security reasons) after her death, a relative told him the unthinkable – members of both his family and hers had taken the vegetable oil out of the bottle and replaced it with gasoline. Saeed knew the reason – many years ago, the two had become Christians and refused to return to Islam.

Woman in Yemen Burned to Death for Her Faith

Nazeera receiving hospital treatment after fire attack. (Morning Star News via Saeed)

After living in hiding in Yemen for several months, Saeed was able to flee to the relative safety of another country, he told Morning Star News.

Before the attack, Saeed and his wife had already decided to flee their families and the 99 percent Muslim country on the Arabian Peninsula. They got their travel papers two days before the sabotaged bottle exploded.

Medical Care

After doctors said there was nothing more they could do for Nazeera, friends of the couple were able to secure a room in a hospital in Egypt for further treatment. Nazeera died that day, before they could go.

Saeed was with her when she died. Among her last words to him was not to worry and to take care of their children. Saeed left the hospital and took the two-hour trip back home. There a relative told him that one of his brothers and one of her brothers had conspired against them to punish them.

“I was told by one of our relatives that it was a set-up, and they replaced the cooking oil with petrol, which caught flames as soon as she poured it out,” he said.

When Saeed went to police for help, officers told him to bring witnesses who could testify about the alleged conspiracy to sabotage the cooking oil bottle. His children only saw the explosion and could not testify regarding sabotage, and Saeed’s relatives refused to incriminate the alleged conspirators, their own family members.

“No one will be a witness for us,” Saeed said. “And my family told me that if I was killed and cut into pieces, they wouldn’t do anything to help or be a witness on my side.”

Saeed buried his wife and tried to sell everything left in his home, but family members blocked his efforts. Initially his four children lived at his mother’s house after the attack, but he secretly took them to another country before relatives could take them from him.

His last image of home was his relatives descending on his house, he said.

“I lost the way to support myself and everything we had,” he said. “And when we were leaving, I was trying to sell things we had, but some of my family members stopped it so I wouldn’t get anything. Even the day I took the children to leave [the country], they attacked our house and divided our things among themselves. They destroyed the rest.”

A New Faith

Saeed, 45, was born into a Muslim family in a small village in south Yemen that he would not identify for security reasons.

As a high school Arabic teacher, Saeed read a lot of newspapers to incorporate current events into his classes. In 1997, he was reading an article about a member of the Yemeni Parliament doing something seen as a sin in Islam. Later he was struck by a columnist’s article about the incident urging forgiveness.

“A local journalist wrote an article saying, ‘Why don’t you forgive him like Essa [Jesus] said. If you forgive other people, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive other people, your Father will not forgive you,’” Saeed said. “I heard this verse and was amazed that God talks about forgiveness, and I wanted to know more about Him, but as you know, you can hardly find Bibles in Yemen. I waited, and in 2003, I heard one of my students talking about a Christian radio station that broadcasts for half an hour a day in the Yemeni dialect. That’s how I came to know about Jesus.”

Saeed married Nazeera in 1998. By 2003, when he began drifting from Islam to become a Christian, he had two sons and his wife was pregnant with their first daughter. All of them, including his wife, followed him in his newfound faith.

When people in his village started to notice a change in the way he acted, they started harassing him.

“I was also punished at work,” Saeed said. “In 2003, I was suspended for being a Christian from my work for a year, and then when I returned, instead of putting me back in my place as a secondary school teacher, I was demoted and placed in a primary school. Instead of working in a school about 100 meters away from my house, the new school where I taught was 5 kilometers [3 miles] away, which I had to walk to every day.”

At the primary school, things got worse. He was suspended once, he said, for refusing to donate 500 rials (US$2.40) that the school was collecting from every worker for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization designated as a terrorist group by the United States and other nations.

In March he refused to give a donation at school to a charitable Islamic association affiliated with another terrorist group. A member of the charity accused Saeed of being an “infidel” and then encouraged another teacher to assault him. The teacher beat him in front of more than 1,000 students. Saeed did not fight back, he said.

Persecution from Nazeera’s family was no less severe. They essentially kidnapped her three times in three years in hopes of convincing her to leave “the infidel.”

“But she kept saying that she wanted to be with me, and that she believes in what I believe, and that no matter what, she won’t leave me and the children,” Saeed said.

At least one human rights group that advocates for persecuted Christians and a group of Christians assisting Saeed have confirmed the details of his ordeal. One religious freedom advocate said that while today’s headlines are full of stories about terrorist groups brutalizing Christian communities in the Middle East, the day-to-day life and death struggles of converts often go forgotten.

“Though clearly an extreme case of persecution, this incident illustrates the pressure converts are under,” said the advocate, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The killing was “a huge tragedy,” he added. “That is not anything anyone should have to go though alone. It is the worst place to be.”

Defying common logic, Saeed said God allowed the atrocity to take place to “strengthen our faith and use us more in His Kingdom.”

“We ask people to pray for us, as we are all alone in this new place,” he said (Morning Star News has confirmed the country, undisclosed for security reasons). “Pray for my children, as now I am their mother and father and only friend. We need prayers for God’s strength and to give us strong faith. I want people outside to know that even if we get cut into pieces, we won’t leave Jesus Christ.”

Somali Christian in Kenya Beaten, Thrown Off Fourth-Floor Balcony

Somali Christian In Kenya Beaten, Thrown Off Balcony

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 27, 2014 (Morning Star News) – A secret Christian from Somalia is still in pain as he recovers from a Muslim extremist attack here that left him in a coma for five days.

Five Somali immigrant Muslims on Aug. 15 threw Mohammed Ali, a 30-year-old convert from Islam, from a fourth-story apartment building in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, according to a friend.  Ali, who lives in another area and is receiving treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital, was helping the friend to move.

“Mohammed left Eastleigh six years ago after escaping an attack,” said his wife, whose name is undisclosed for security reasons. “I had been telling him to be careful of the Muslims at Eastleigh, as they are not happy with his conversion to Christianity.”

Ali and his wife have two daughters, 5 and 3.

Somali Christian in Kenya Beaten, Thrown Off Fourth-Floor Balcony

Attack on Mohammed Ali by Islamic extremists in Nairobi also injured his ankle. (Morning Star News)

Ali and the friend were waiting at the friend’s place in Eastleigh, which has a large population of Somali immigrants, for a vehicle to transport household items in the move. Told to wait until 5 p.m., at that hour they called the driver, who said he was held up in a traffic jam. They continued to wait.

At 9 p.m., they heard a knock on the door. Ali’s friend, whose name is undisclosed for security reasons, went to open it thinking the driver of the transport vehicle had arrived. As he opened the door, one of five men told him, “We are looking for Mohammed,” the friend said.

Ali’s friend told them that it was late and that they should come back to see him early in the morning, but they pushed their way in, pulled Ali out of the room and threw him over a balcony from the fourth-floor apartment building.

His speech and memory impaired, Ali was able to speak with Morning Star News for no more than one minute.

“I just found myself in the hospital bed,” he said. “How I got into the hospital, I do not know.”

A doctor at the hospital said Ali’s bladder was injured. A deep wound to his stomach appeared to indicate he had been slashed with a knife.

Ali said someone may have set him up to be attacked. His wife and others said they believe he was deliberately made to wait at his friend’s place in order to provide a more isolated moment for the assailants to try to kill him.

“My husband left the house and did not come back, and that very day I received a telephone call from the police informing me that Mohammed had been attacked,” his wife said.

The hospital bill has surpassed 100,000 Kenyan shillings (US$1,110), she added.

“I am appealing to well-wishers to help us settle the hospital bill as well as support us at this trying moment,” she said.

Ali, born to Somalis in northern Kenya, has served as a Bible teacher and discipleship mentor for the Somali church in an undisclosed area of Nairobi. He said he became a Christian 15 years ago.

Members of the underground Christian community in Nairobi – most Somalis even in Kenya cannot worship openly before their immigrant countrymen, as leaving Islam is a crime punishable by death in Somalia – said that Ali’s survival was a miracle.

Kenya is 83 percent Christian while only 8 percent are Muslim, according to Operation World.

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram 'Caliphate' Claim

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram ‘Caliphate’ Claim


Nigerian militants have released a new video stating they have annexed a town and the surrounding countryside into what they call their “Islamic Caliphate.”  Officials deny the claim and the video’s credibility.  But some religious leaders say as Boko Haram grows stronger, the government should re-consider abandoned peace talks.

The video released Sunday, distributed in its usual shadowy way, shows the man who claims to be the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, flanked by two masked men with guns in front of large SUVs.

He says Boko Haram has taken over Gwoza, an area that has been the site of many militant attacks in recent months, including the murder of the local emir in late May.

Next, a sequence appears to show the taking of a town or a military base.  Fighters shoot their way through a rural area with buildings, in the hills among the rocks and finally rolling into town on military trucks, triumphant and still shooting, as music plays in the video.

The people in the video all appear to be Boko Haram fighters but it is not clear who or what they are shooting at.  Some analysts say the video is part of an emerging pattern of Boko Haram entering towns and forcing anyone they can to fight.

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram 'Caliphate' Claim

Video screen shot of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram leader and obtained by AFP shows Abubakar Shekau, delivering a speech at an undisclosed location, Aug. 24, 2014.

“Now it’s really the more they expand, they go into territories, to use the words properly, they conquer new territories and they take the boys that are there and they need more and more personnel,” said Yan St. Pierre, CEO of MOSECON, a Berlin-based security firm.

The United Nations says 650,000 people have fled their homes because of Boko Haram fighting and the group has killed thousands of people this year alone with the stated goal of enforcing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Some religious leaders say that in many parts of northern Nigeria, there’s nothing people can do but run.

“The federal government cannot provide the security for you.  You have to provide the security for yourself and your family,” explained Mallam Abdullahi Bayero, the spokesman for the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria.

Nigerian officials skeptical

But Nigerian officials say the new video lacks credibility altogether, calling Shekau’s claim to have established some sort of rule, “empty.”

At the same time, Defense spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade says “appropriate military operations to secure that area from the activities of the bandits is still ongoing.”

While the military continues to fight, some leaders say a recent surge in kidnapping is, among other things, a reason for the government to reconsider peace talks, a strategy that has been on and off the table for years.

Among the hundreds of men, women and children kidnapped this year are more than 200 schoolgirls taken from the town of Chibok in April.  The abduction drew international attention, but the girls remain missing.

Pastor Yohanna Buru of the Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria says the government should send leaders the militants can relate to, like imams or traditional rulers, to try again to negotiate.

“Boko Haram, they always approve traditional rulers or religious leaders to go and dialogue.” Buru said. “Why is the federal government not playing their role right?”

In the video, Shekau directed his most venomous words against civilian vigilante groups, essentially saying those who defend their homes, will, if Boko Haram gets its way, be murdered in the name of God.

Abdulkareen Haruna contributed to this report from Bauchi, Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.

Niger Minister Arrested in Baby Trafficking Investigation

Niger Politician Arrested In Child Trafficking Investigation


Niger’s agriculture minister has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a baby-trafficking network, a spokesman for his political party and legal sources said on Saturday.

The arrest of Abdou Labo, a senior figure in President Mahamadou Issoufou’s ruling coalition, comes after 17 people, including his wife and the spouses of other politicians, were arrested in June as part of a police investigation.

 Following the arrest of his wife, Labo, who is one of five ministers of state in the 36-member government, denied any involvement in trafficking.

Kabirou Adamou, spokesman for Labo’s Democratic and Social Convention (CDS) party, said:  “We had a party meeting this morning. The minister called to say the judge had decided to place him in detention. He is presumed innocent for the moment.”Niger Minister Arrested in Baby Trafficking Investigation

Niger police suspect those currently being detained of acquiring new-born babies from “baby factories” in neighbouring Nigeria. The case has been referred to Niger’s public prosecutor.

“Abdou Labo was imprisoned Saturday at the civilian prison in Say, 60 km (37 miles) southwest of (the capital) Niamey,” a judge told Reuters, asking not to be named. “This is in the framework of the investigations into baby trafficking.”

A second judicial source confirmed the arrest.

Human trafficking and the sale of children is a long-standing issue across West Africa. Last year, police in Nigeria raided several “baby factories”, freeing dozens of pregnant girls who were being forced to bear children for sale.

Hans / Pixabay

Hunger in America: 1 In 7 Rely On Food Banks

By Natalie DiBlasio 

LORTON, Va. (RNS) When Mary Smallenburg, 35, of Fort Belvoir, Va., opened a package from her mother to find cereal and ramen noodles, she burst into tears. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to feed her four children.

“It got to the point where I opened my pantry and there was nothing. Nothing. What was I going to feed my kids?” Smallenburg said, adjusting a bag of fresh groceries on her arm.

Smallenburg’s family is one of 50 military families that regularly visit the Lorton Community Action Center food bank. Volunteers wave a familiar hello as she walks in the door.

“None of what we have been through has been expected,” Smallenburg said. Three of her four children have special needs, and her husband is deployed in Korea. “The last few months, actually, coming here has been a godsend.”

Nationwide, 25 percent of military families — 620,000 households — need help putting food on the table, according to a study by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks.

“The results are alarming,” said Bob Aiken, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “It means that people in

America have to make trade-offs. They have to pick between buying food for their children or paying for utilities, rent and medicine.”

One in seven Americans — 46 million people — rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families, the study found.

“Hunger exists in literally every county in America,” Aiken said. “It’s an urban problem, it’s a suburban problem, and it’s a rural problem.”

Linda Patterson, executive director of Lorton Community Action Center, said stereotypes of the people who need food assistance are misleading.

“The people who come here are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctors offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children’s school,” Patterson said. “They just can’t make ends meet because some kind of crisis has hit them.”

The Hunger in America study found that of people who use food banks:

• 26 percent are black, 20 percent are Hispanic, 43 percent are white and 11 percent are other.

• 33 percent of households have at least one family member with diabetes.

• 65 percent of households have a child under 18 or someone 60 or older.

“Children are going to school, not looking forward to learning but looking forward to eating,” said Shamia Holloway, spokeswoman for the Capital Area Food Bank.

The Lorton Community Action Center has seen an 18 percent increase in people who need food assistance since food stamp benefits were cut in November, Patterson said.

“Many of our families, if they don’t come, will have to choose between paying rent or their kids eating that night,” Patterson said. The median monthly household income of Feeding America network clients is $927.

Sydni Marquesas, 47, of Lorton, works in merchandising. “It doesn’t pay much and they limit your hours,” she said. “Plus, Virginia just made it so hard to apply for SNAP.”

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what food stamps are called now. Marquesas has used the food bank to get food for herself and her 14-year-old daughter for more than a year and a half.

Recently she started taking nutrition classes through the food bank. “The classes are great,” she said. “I am learning about healthy eating on a budget.”

In the past year, food banks have increased their focus on healthy foods. The study found that 79 percent of people who use food banks report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food just to have enough to feed their families.

“We are seeing a change. People are starting to understand the correlation between diet and illness,” said Allison Majewski of the Capital Area Food Bank. “They want healthier food. They are asking for dairy, meats and fresh produce.

“The people who come to us for help are coming more regularly,” Majewski said. “We aren’t a one-time emergency stop anymore. We are a staple for them, so it’s very important that we make these healthy foods available.”

(Natalie DiBlasio writes for USA Today.)

Ebola Drug Poses Question of Ethics in Treatment

Ebola Drug Raises Question Of Ethics In Treatment

As the death toll from the Ebola virus disease continues to soar in several West African countries, an experimental drug called ZMapp was administered to two U.S. missionaries who contracted the virus while working with Ebola patients in Liberia.

The two patients are reportedly doing well in an Atlanta hospital, but a Spanish priest tested positive for the virus in Monrovia may have received the same drug before dying in a Madrid hospital.

The drug was developed by a U.S. pharmaceutical firm but has not been tested for safety or effectiveness on humans. Dr. Philip M. Rosoff says this is the problem with experimental drugs that have never been clinically tested in humans.  One does not know whether or not they will work — and on whom do they work.

Rosoff is professor of pediatrics and medicine,the director of clinical ethics at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina and author of the recently released book, “Rationing Is Not a Four-Letter Word: Setting Limits on Healthcare.”

He spoke on the ramifications of using an untested drug to treat humans.Ebola Drug Poses Question of Ethics in Treatment

The risk of unanticipated toxicities

Among the many risks of using an untested drug to treat humans, Rosoff says “there are the risks of unanticipated toxicities.” But because there is no known cure the disease, the World Health Organization has permitted the use of untested treatments. The question is then, who will get the limited supplies?

He says that in desperate situations such as West Africa where only 10 percent of those who contract Ebola survive, doctors must approach it with a great deal of caution, care and thoughtfulness.

“Desperate people are willing to take desperate measures to save their lives or the lives of their loved ones,” said Rosoff. “And those who would hold out hope to those desperate people need to take great care that the hope is not portrayed in an inappropriate or unrealistic manner.”

He emphasizes it would be impossible to know if this drug is effective upfront since no experiments as far as he knows have been done to show that it is effective in people, or not effective for that matter.

In determining who should receive the drug, the same manner of care and thought should go into the decision.

How to ration life-saving treatments

“This is a classic rationing problem, and you have to decide to whom to administer. These kinds of decisions should not be made behind closed doors, but should be expeditiously managed and discussed openly about how the rationing choice will be made,” Rosoff said.

For example, he points out, you may decide to treat healthcare workers first because they are the front-line defense for Ebola. The first contact with the patient and sick people cannot be cared for if there are no health workers to take care of them.

“Other considerations are – should you give it to the sickest people first, or should you give it to those who might be thought medically to have the best opportunity to survive,” Roseff said.

Once you have identified a class of people who are the first to be eligible for the drug –  such as first-line health workers – there are many ways to decide how others in need should get the drug.

“Some people think that a lottery or coin toss mechanism is the fairest.  Other people think first-in-line – first-come, first-served – might be the fairest.  The problem with first-come, first-served is that tends to privilege people who can get there first, and that’s sometimes people who have access to information or transportation,” Rosoff said.

Consideration must be done carefully and transparently so everyone knows what the rules are.

Bolivia’s Evangelical Christians Launch Fight for Religious Freedom

Bolivia’s Evangelical Christians Launch Fight For Religious Freedom

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (Morning Star News) – Evangelical Christians have begun their battle against new measures that could result in the dissolution of Protestant denominations and other groups that have ministered in Bolivia for decades.

As organizations that fail to comply with the new government measures will lose their legal standing, the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB) on July 30 presented a Petition of Unconstitutionality to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal seeking their repeal.

“This law is totally unconstitutional, incongruent with religious liberty as enshrined in Article 4 of the constitution,” said Cochabamba attorney Ruth Montaño, who helped frame ANDEB’s Petition of Unconstitutionality.

The battle over constitutional rights in Bolivia pits the country’s religious minorities against the government of President Evo Morales. The outcome could determine future freedom of religion in the Andean country, particularly for Bolivia’s 1.6 million Protestant Christians.

Law 351, passed by the Bolivian legislative assembly in March 2013, aims to “regulate the granting and registration of legal standing to churches, religious groups and spiritual beliefs, whose goals do not involve profit.” Morales signed the second disputed measure, Supreme Decree 1987, on April 30. Setting guidelines for implementation of Law 351, it stipulates that any religious organization in the country – Jewish and Muslim communities as well as Protestant churches – must reapply for legal standing within the next year.

Montaño said the measures contradict Article 4 of Bolivia’s Political Constitution, adopted under Morales’s leadership in February 2009, which says, “The State respects and guarantees freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accordance with their worldviews. The State is independent of religion.”

Decree 1987 imposes a list of burdensome preconditions upon religious organizations that contradict the language of Article 4. For example, denominations must file a “notarized listing” of the names, ID numbers, tax certificates and police files of national leaders, as well as notarized lists of names and ID numbers of their entire membership.

Churches are also to provide a schedule of their annual activities “for control and follow-up” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Failure to produce the required paperwork, or flaws in the reports as determined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will result in the cancellation of the organization’s legal standing. This in turn would lead to confiscation of church properties, dissolution of worship services and closure of training centers, she said.

“The threat to revoke the documents that grant us legal standing, simply by decision of a state bureaucrat, violates due process,” Montaño said.

“According to civil law code, [a church’s] legal standing can be revoked only following a trial that finds the organization guilty of breaching the laws of the state,” she said. “The constitution does not grant these officials the authority to revoke our legal incorporation.”

Decree 1987 also requires churches, synagogues and mosques to file copies of their bylaws with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To gain official approval, these documents must include procedures for “the admission and exclusion of members, the rights and obligations of members, an internal disciplinary regimen which includes infractions, sanctions and procedures,” and other such provisions.

Montaño pointed out that instead of guaranteeing freedom of worship, the regulations “obligate us to operate under a model of administration contrary to our own faith doctrines.”

ANDEB expects a ruling from the Constitutional Tribunal by the end of the year. If judges decide in favor of religious organizations, the contested regulations would be nullified. This in turn would obligate the legislative assembly to pass a law to guarantee freedom religion and protect the legal standing of churches.

ANDEB officials have met with Morales and members of his cabinet on several occasions to register their opposition to Law 351 and Supreme Decree 1987. In a meeting on July 28 with Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana, ANDEB President Agustín Aguilera, ANDEB vice-president Romualdo Atahuachi, and ANDEB board member Jorge Chávez protested the new regulations. They told Quintana that the evangelical Christian population had mobilized a prayer movement aimed at defeating their implementation.

After listening to the objections raised by ANDEB leaders, Quintana reportedly agreed that they should petition the Constitutional Tribunal for redress, which they did two days later.

Bolivia’s Evangelical Christians Launch Fight for Religious Freedom

Christians gather during President Evo Morales’ first visit to Chacarillas in 2012. (Morning Star News)

“This is an action that favors not only evangelical Christians, but every Bolivian citizen,” Aguilera told Morning Star News. “The defense of freedom of religion is a defense of freedom in its totality . . . We believe we have compelling support in the constitution, and are firmly pursuing a just resolution to this matter.”

According to Aguilera, the evangelical Christian community plans a public march in defense of religious liberty in all of Bolivia’s state capitals on Sept. 6. The demonstrations will also alert the public to their appeal before the Constitutional Tribunal.

Bolivian officials have sent contradictory messages to the Protestant Christian community throughout the unfolding controversy. In one widely publicized incident, an estimated 10 thousand Quechua- and Aymara-speaking evangelical Christians hosted Morales at their annual Easter morning worship in the village of Chacarillas.

After thanking them for their prayers on his behalf, Morales touted his administration’s record on religious liberty.

According to the La Paz newspaper El Deber, Morales told the assembled worshippers, “A secular state is the best guarantee of religious democracy in our beloved Bolivia.”

He added, “During the framing of the [2009] constitution, there were some brethren … who said, ‘If this constitution is approved, then Evo is going to close the churches.’ That’s totally false. On the contrary, our constitution guarantees our freedom of religion in all of Bolivia.”

Ten days later, Morales signed Decree 1987, which, if strictly enforced, will close at least some Protestant churches.

The irony of his action was not lost on church leaders.

“If the state is independent of religion, why are they trying to impose these restrictions on us?” Montaño pointed out. “This is a repudiation of the secular state.”

Swaziland Media Muzzled in Africa’s Last Absolute Monarchy

Media Muzzled In Africa’s Last Absolute Monarchy

By Anita Powell


Media freedom is under attack in the African kingdom of Swaziland, claim journalists who say they face constant harassment. The journalists from Africa’s last absolute monarchy say the king has throttled the media to advance his own interests and protect his wealth in a nation with some of the world’s highest rates of poverty, unemployment and AIDS.

From the outside, the tiny, landlocked nation of Swaziland looks like it has a disproportionate share of problems.

According to a scathing report from U.S.-based think tank Freedom House, 43 percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty, a quarter of adults have HIV, and life expectancy is a mere 48 years.

But journalists and activists from Africa’s last absolute monarchy say they are all but forbidden from publishing any stories that paint their country in a negative light.

Censorship, prison

The nation’s leadership underscored that point last month, when a prominent journalist and a human rights lawyer were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for an article that criticized the judicial system.

Journalist Nqobile Hlatswhayo heads the Media Workers Union of Swaziland, and he said journalists face strong pressure to censor their own work.

“Journalists are expected to toe the line and only report positive messages about the country and about cultural activities, what is government doing for the people, and all that,” said Hlatswhayo. “But they are expected to bury bad stories that can, like they say, paint the country badly outside.”

Swazi Observer managing editor Mbongeni Mbingo, said he nearly lost his job over a 2009 article that he did not even write. His piece, he said, was a mere accounting of the king’s fleet of luxury cars. But when media in neighboring South Africa got hold of the details, he said they spun it into a tale of an insensitive monarch who spends profligately on luxuries while his people starve.

Swaziland Media Muzzled in Africa’s Last Absolute Monarchy

King Mswati III of Swaziland and wife Inkhosikati La Mbikiza arrive for a dinner hosted by President Barack Obama for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, at the White House in Washington, Aug. 5, 2014.

“It did get me into a lot of water. Hot, hot water. I could have lost my job over it, and I am grateful I did not, and it is one era of my career that I look at and say, ‘I survived that bullet,’” he said.

Respect vs. freedoms

Like many people living in Swaziland, Mbingo walks a tightrope between reverence for his king and his demand for basic freedoms.

“I think our perspective when we published those stories was partly to say, the king drives in such a car befitting his status. So it is something that we, you know, we hold the king in very high esteem in our country, and we also want to see that he gets what befits his status as a king,” said  Mbingo. “So if he gets a new car, the Swazi public must know that, okay, the king has these type of wheels because because, maybe one could say, he deserves to have that type of car.”

Biut activist Mandla Hlatshwayo said that while he respects the institution of the monarchy, he has no love for the current king. He said unshackling the media is the first step toward turning things around in Swaziland.

“It will improve everyone’s life. It will even improve the outlook of those in power, because they cannot wish away the voice of the ordinary people,” he said. “It will also inform the world in terms of its engagement with Swaziland not to actually avoid the real issues. So if the media was free, I think many people in Swaziland who are in power will have nowhere to hide. But right now they are able to ensure that nobody has information.”

Nqobile Hlatshwayo, who also writes for the Observer, said that despite the constraints upon her, however, there is no place she would rather be.

“I want to be there when my country changes for the better. I want to be there when dissenting voices will not be suppressed. And I want to make sure that activism is allowed in Swaziland. And if I do not get that bullet – who will?” she asked.

Until that day, she said, she waits and hopes.

WHO: Ebola Crisis 'Vastly Underestimated'

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The World Health Organization now says the Ebola crisis that has struck West Africa and taken more than 1,000 lives has been “vastly underestimated.” In addition, the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group says the crisis is likely to last at least another six months. Zlatica Hoke has more on the fight to contain the deadly disease.