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Nigerians Threaten to Burn Ebola Units

Nigerians Threaten To Burn Ebola Units

ABUJA, NIGERIA—

As fears of Ebola spread across West Africa, some Nigerians are rejecting the idea of building Ebola isolation units in their neighborhoods.

In parts of Nigeria prone to communal violence, locals took to the streets this week, saying they would sooner burn Ebola centers down than allow them to operate.

In many parts of Nigeria, residents say they are more afraid of Ebola than of Boko Haram, the militant group that has killed thousands of people this year alone.

In the northern city of Kaduna Wednesday, where Boko Haram has struck many times, hundreds of people protested plans to convert sections of a local clinic into an Ebola treatment center.

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Poster providing information on the Ebola virus on the door of the Head of Department of Hospital Services, Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, Aug. 11, 2014.

Many carried signs that said: “No Ebola in our hospital.”

“They are kicking against it that it should not be situated here.  Not that government should not do what it is supposed to do.  But situating it here is what they are against,” said Danjuma Musa, a religious leader in Down Quarters, where the hospital is located.

On Thursday, Nigerian Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chukwu said what the government should and must do is prepare for the possibility of a widespread outbreak regardless of objections he calls “irrational fear.”

Nigeria has recorded 15 cases of Ebola and six deaths since the disease came to Nigeria in July.  The World Health Organization said Thursday more than 1,500 people have died since the West Africa outbreak began early this year, nearly all in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The outbreak is also growing faster, it said, with 40 percent of new cases recorded in the past 21 days.

The health minister says Kaduna residents and other communities that have objected to Ebola centers will be in no danger because patients will not mingle with anyone outside the hospital.

“Even family members are not even permitted. You’re a man? Your wife is not even permitted. You’re a woman? Your husband, your children, they are not even permitted. So I don’t know how people now think they will get Ebola because we are treating. In any case, people might as well ask all hospitals be removed from their cities,” said Chukwu.

But protesters say they are not only afraid of the disease spreading.

Nigerians are watching harrowing scenes from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, where a forced quarantine in a massive city slum has led to deadly clashes between residents and soldiers.

In Kaduna, where thousands of people have died in clashes in the past two decades, political rallies and protests are banned.  Some residents that attended the protest Wednesday say they fear an Ebola center could spark public outrage and more violence.

“When you look at the number of people that came out yesterday protesting, at least that can trigger something else in the state. But thank God, we did things peacefully,” said Ibrahim Shehu, who chairs the clinic’s board.

Business concerns

Other residents say Nigerians are so afraid of Ebola in general, that even if the isolation unit has no patients, its presence will keep people out of the neighborhood, killing their businesses.

“When there is something dangerous nobody will patronize you. People will run away from you,” said Abdullahi Mohammed Barnawa, who sells wood at a market near the clinic.

Like some other Kaduna residents, Barnawa mistakenly believes Ebola is airborne, when in reality it spreads through contact with bodily fluids, making it much harder to catch.

Officials say they are working dispel rumors like this with TV ads, radio jingles and educational flyers, warning that false information can sometimes be as deadly as Ebola.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.

‘Step down’: Full text of Mars Hill pastors’ letter to Mark Driscoll

‘Step Down:’ Full Text Of Mars Hill Pastors’ Letter To Mark Driscoll

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey

(RNS) A letter from nine current pastors sent to their fellow elders concerning controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was posted last week on a Mars Hill online network. The letter is perhaps the most significant to date, as the pastors represent the backbone of the church.

The letter, distributed just two days before Driscoll stepped down for at least six weeks, was posted on an internal church network and provided to Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging updates about Mars Hill, who then provided the letter to Religion News Service.

Concerns and Critical Information for the Elders of Mars Hill Church

Grace and Peace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:2

Fellow elders,

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Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while church leaders review formal charges lodged by a group of pastors that he abused his power. Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church

We love you, this church, and the people that Jesus has entrusted to our care.

Pastor Mark, we love you and have been immensely blessed under your preaching, and for that we are grateful.

Pastor Dave, we love you and we are thankful for the love you show to us and all those in your care, and also for your calm and clear-headed leadership in tough situations.

Pastor Sutton, we love you and are thankful that you care deeply for Mars Hill Church.

Additionally, we are thankful to the men of the BOAA for the time and energy they have given to love our church and our leaders well.

We are convicted that as we are all elders, pastors, shepherds, we equally share the responsibility for the care of the people God has entrusted to us. And it is because of this conviction and a love for the church that we are compelled to speak up. We are seriously concerned about the state of our church, especially the state our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general. While the current bylaws greatly restrict our authority, we believe we must act like elders none-the-less. There is information in this letter that we believe to be important to the future of Mars Hill Church and our response to it may impact whether or not it will even have a future at all.

Come Into The Light

In John 3:21 we read this: “…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Brothers, have we been a church that is characterized by coming towards and loving the light? Do we welcome the light, trusting God’s grace and mercy when our weaknesses and failures are exposed?

The media has been inundated, especially in the last two years and increasingly in the past six months, with controversies surrounding Mars Hill and Pastor Mark. While some of these accusations may be groundless or exaggerated, we believe that in many cases we have  invited these controversies upon ourselves by not seeking the truth and not seeking to be in the light.

Where there is nothing to hide, there is no fear of being exposed. But, rather than seeking clarity, we have cloaked ourselves in non-disclosure agreements. We have become masters of spin in how we communicate the transition of a high volume of people off staff. We have taken refuge behind official statements that might not technically be lies on the surface, but in truth are deeply misleading.

At the retreat this week, Pastor Dave spoke about our church’s credibility problem. Brothers, this credibility problem is directly linked to the fact that we have not loved the light.

This is not the fault of one person, or even a just a small group of people. We all share in responsibility for this in one way or another, and we must all repent of it together, together calling for our church to step into the light.

Exposing The Darkness

It is out of a longing to come to the light that we began to look more deeply into certain issues when the answers that we were being given — answers that were being given to our people — continued to not add up. We sought clarity, which has been lacking. We do not believe that looking for answers, asking questions, and trying to discern the truth is a divisive or sinful thing. Rather, this is the responsibility we have as elders as we are called to lead our people and the church from a position of truth and love. To ask us not to do so would only be to further exasperate the “culture of fear” that we so desperately want to move away from.

We would like to share with you the following two examples, as they were both misrepresented this past week at our elder retreat before the Full Council of Elders. We are not inferring intent or motives, but rather we are attempting to call attention to discrepancies and to resolve them.

BOAA/EE Statements Claim That We Had No Way to Interview Witnesses from Dave Kraft’s Formal Charges

We have been repeatedly told that we could not hear from the witnesses mentioned in the document. This did not add up, since the document clearly states that there were seven individuals who were willing to testify when called upon, and Dave Kraft stated clearly that he hoped that they would be called upon.

Through conversations separately with Dave Kraft and Michael Van Skaik, I (Dustin) finally got clarity on this on Tuesday morning at the elder retreat. The issue was not that the BOAA “could not” interview the witnesses, but rather that Michael Van Skaik “would not” open an investigation without Dave Kraft giving him the names first. This seems to be a completely unreasonable and unnecessary demand when the charges themselves reveal that the witnesses felt bullied and were afraid of the consequences of releasing their names outside of the protection of a formal investigation being opened. Mike Wilkerson, who helped prepare the charges for Dave, confirms that he recommended to Dave that the names of the witnesses be disclosed only after they were protected by a formal investigation process. Mike made this recommendation in part due to his perception of the danger and fear involved for the witnesses, and also because he had knowledge that a prior complaint had not been handled according to the complainant’s expectation of confidentiality, resulting in further harm to the complainant. Furthermore, this charge was not coming from an unknown critic, but rather Dave Kraft who is a respected former elder and Christian leader. Because of his reputation we should have been willing to give greater credence to his charges and want to hear them out. Regardless of whether this was a wise or helpful decision by the BOAA, it is clearly misleading to state emphatically over and over that there was no way to talk to these people and hear their testimony, when clearly there was.

This is no minor issue as we have been consistently misled about the key reason the Kraft charges were handled the way they were. How can Van Skaik claim that “the formal charges that were filed were…taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly,” when he would not even open the case to hear from the actual witnesses? Sending out letters to former employees in an effort to find these people or others who experienced similar situations seems to be a failed effort from the start, for the same reason that the 7 would not release their names unless as witnesses in an official investigation. Because of this refusal, it is misleading to claim that the charges were taken seriously when the witnesses were never even interviewed. Michael Van Skaik confirmed this week that no formal investigation was ever opened in response to Dave Kraft’s charges filed last year.

Public Statements Claim That There Was No Contact Between Mark/BOAA and A29 Board Prior To A29 Removing MH From Network

We have been repeatedly told that no one from the A29 board talked to Mark or to our board prior to removing Mark from the network. This is only true if by “talk” you mean “told us beforehand that they were kicking us out,” and if you dismiss contact between individual board members with Mark and with each other. The impression created by these statements was one where it seemed that the A29 board had made their decision having had no communication with people close to Mark or with Mark himself, with no actual insight into the situation, and with no care for Mark or Mars Hill. The truth is that multiple members of both boards had been in direct contact with each other, and with Mark, exhorting and rebuking him over the course of months and years, and to say or imply otherwise is deeply misleading. Paul Tripp has confirmed that he specifically was in contact multiple times, while on the BOAA, with Matt Chandler, Steve Timmis, and Eric Mason about the state of Pastor Mark’s repentance.

To be fair, when specifically pressed on the issue at the elder retreat, Van Skaik did admit that he was sure that some members of the two boards had been in contact with each other individually, and clarified that they had not met together as full boards. But this does not change the fact that we have not corrected our public statements and rhetoric, nor does it change the fact that Van Skaik would not have admitted this without being pressed into by Pastor Miles during our first session at the retreat. As a whole, MH’s communication surrounding this event is very misleading.

An On-Going Pattern

Beyond these two examples, there is no dearth of examples in the last two years of very questionable transparency and truth-telling, including the Mars Hill Global Fund, Result-Source, Strange Fire, ghost-writing/plagiarism, explanations for staff transition, the resignations of BOAA members, etc. Even this Thursday we put out a statement claiming that Wilkerson’s formal charges were being “reviewed by the board and the elders.” This is misleading as it gives people the impression that the elders as a whole are able to take part in reviewing and adjudicating the case.

There are many problems in our church, but the lack of transparency is itself a huge problem and keeps us from dealing with all the problems that it covers over. Christians have a biblical responsibility to speak plainly and clearly.

“Mars Hill Needs To Deal With It’s Sin Or It Will Die” (Dr. Paul Tripp)

This talk of transparency leads us to share some staggering information that was shared with a number of MH elders by Dr. Paul Tripp.

Before going further, we want to make clear the following three things:

1. Paul did not seek us out, but rather was sought out by us.

2. At every point in our communication with Paul, he was emphatic in expressing his deep love for Pastor Mark and for Mars Hill Church.

3. At no time did Paul divulge any information from his private interactions with Pastor Mark, and made clear that he would not do so in the future.

We are very grateful for Paul sticking out his neck to help serve Jesus’ church and to care for his brother Mark.

Let’s stop for a moment and anticipate what might be an objection here, namely that this is just the opinion of one man. Why should we listen to Paul Tripp at all?

  • He is known internationally as a pastor to pastors.
  • He has worked in a similar capacity as he did at Mars Hill with literally thousands of pastors and ministries.
  • He has taught Re:Train.
  • He has preached in our Best Sermon Ever series.
  • He has taught parenting seminars at Mars Hill.
  • We obviously trust him to the point that we elected him to our BOAA and we recommend and give away his book on what it means to truly means to be a pastor (Dangerous Calling).
  • His book (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands) is foundational to our biblical counseling ministry.
  • He had a level of access and involvement with the events of the last few months that exceeds that of anyone reading this email.
  • He has absolutely nothing to gain personally by speaking to us on these matters, but is fully aware of this action potentially causing him much personal hardship.
  • Above all continues to deeply love Pastor Mark and wants good for our church, evidenced by his willingness to continue to help.

All nine elders who were on the phone call were floored by the depth and clarity of the understanding that Paul had of the culture of Mars Hill and its leadership from his short time on the board. Below are some samples from our conversation:

—–

When asked about speculations that he might have resigned to protect the reputation of his ministry, Paul said this: “I am not worried at all at burning my integrity for the real deal, but I won’t burn it for something that’s not the real deal. I don’t think even now that there is the recognition of the depth of what Mars Hill Church and Mark is actually dealing with. This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” He continued on to communicate that Mars Hill’s leadership culture was not shaped by the same grace that it says it believes.

—–

Paul informed us that at one point that during the time when he was setting up the reconciliation process, the EE, without asking the BOAA, met with their lawyers and added a slew of legal constraints to the process. Paul was emphatic in telling the EE that this was unacceptable, but they did not listen, and consequently hindered the process. Paul was disturbed that anything would be seen as more important in this process than being made right with man and with God. “If your response to reconciliation is ‘I want to cover my butt legally, then you’re not interested in reconciliation.’”

—–

Contrary to what we have been told, Paul not only expressed his opinion that the BOAA structure was flawed, he attempted to present a 9 point plan on how to help it and was shut down before he finished point 2. He also said that “One of the problems with the BOAA is that they are getting their information from the people they are supposed to be holding accountable.”

—–

Paul characterized Pastor Mark’s half hour video message as “defiant.” It was specifically defiant in light of Mark saying he’s going to be at MH in 30 years when Paul had clearly told him that he needed to step down. He clarified that this stepping down was “not forever. But given the depth of the heart issues that Mark needs to deal with, he’ll never deal with as long as he’s in the saddle. It just won’t happen.

—–

Paul also said, “I am a man who is living in grief at this whole thing…because Mark is an enormously gifted man. But he is broken inside. He doesn’t see the world the way he should see it, and because of that, his message gets a twist to it. There is something amiss inside that comes out in a destructive way.”

—-

Paul affirmed that he believes that Pastor Mark truly loves Jesus and the church and that if Mars Hill does what is right, the brightest days for Mark and MH are in the future.

—–

“You can’t have a church culture where you essentially have a very tight circle and everyone else is your enemy.”

—–

“Sutton is fundamentally unhelpful for Mark. Sutton plays to all of Mark’s weaknesses and none of Mark’s strengths.” He pleaded with them saying that what Mark needs in an Executive Pastor is a “55 year-old seasoned godly man who watches over Mark’s soul as he administrates the church, and who can pull Mark into a room and say ‘you can’t do that in a meeting’ and you need to call another meeting and ask for forgiveness from the people you just spoke to. He doesn’t need a man who is his trigger man.” He made it clear that Sutton lacks the emotional and spiritual maturity to be where he is at in leadership.

—–

From behind the scenes on the BOAA Paul observed that “A statement that comes from somebody, through Sutton, to you guys, just changes dramatically.” He followed this by saying that he did not think Sutton intended to be consistently untruthful, but that regardless he does end up spinning things constantly out of fear.

—–

Paul acknowledged some level of Mark acknowledging wrong and making some progress. But, he also feels that if Mark clearly saw the depths of his sin and the damage it had caused, he wouldn’t even be able to preach because he would be so overcome with life-changing grief.“What happens with leaders often in these situations is that they give you one paragraph of acknowledgement of wrong, and 6 paragraphs of how they are a victim. If I’m counselling an adulterous man, and he sits in front of me and all he talks about is his wife, I know that man is far from confession and repentance. Because once he sees his sin it is devastating and you cry out for God… You think about your future, you don’t think about how to manage it. Until you get to that level of brokenness, what you do is manage a crisis, instead of dealing with the deep personal sin at the bottom of the crisis.

—–

I (Dustin) had a follow up call with Paul later to confirm that he was comfortable with us sharing all of this with the other elders in writing. Additionally, I confirmed that he would be willing to help us in the future. He confirmed that we could share the above with you, that he would be happy to fly out and meet with the Full Council of Elders if we asked, and would be willing to help in any kind of consulting role that we might deem helpful.

—–

The elders on the initial call with Dr. Tripp ended the conversation by asking him what advice he had for the elders of Mars Hill. He responded,“Do you remember the event where Mark gave all the guys a couple stones? Find those and use them. This is what God ordained elders to do. You are going to risk your future – and I’m serious about this – by standing together and saying ‘It’s done. It’s over. We go no further. We’re done with skirting issues. We’re done mourning the loss of yet another leader. We are done with all the public humiliations and accusations. We are going to deal with our stuff and Mark, that begins with you. We will not continue. We will not plan further ministries. We will not cooperate with further ministries. We’re done. We’re gonna deal with these issues. And based on our authority as elders of Christ’s church, we are directing you to step down. We will fully support you and will do everything we can to restore you. We’re not divorcing you. We’re not kicking you out of the ministry. Our whole purpose is restoration. It’s the only way that change is going to happen, and no one is going to make that happen but the elders of Mars Hill Church.”

In Conclusion

As we bring this letter to a close, we want to again reiterate that we are sending this as an act of love, not of defiance. Love is not compliance, but rather speaking the truth and seeking to walk in the light together. Brothers, we know that we do not stand alone in our concerns for our church. We stand as your brothers, risking our future for the sake of the bride of Christ. It is time for us as elders to “stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” (1 Cor 16:13) while still letting all that we do be done in love. It is time to take responsibility for our church, regardless of how much our current bylaws prevent us from exercising that authority. It grieves us that the only voice that has never been heard in all of this is the voice of the current elders.

Lead Pastors – you can lead the way and your men will follow.

Volunteer Pastors – you carry more weight than you know.

Staff Pastors – Jesus is good and sovereign and he will take care of you.

It’s been implied that Pastor Mark may be stepping down this week. If he does, then we can joyfully affirm his decision. If he does not, it will continue to be our belief that is what would be best for Pastor Mark and the church. But either way we must make the following clear:

  • We, the elders of Mars Hill Church, love Pastor Mark and truly desire his full restoration to preaching Pastor of this church.
  • Whether he were planning to step down or not, we direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
  • He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
  • He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.
  • Dr. Tripp has agreed to serve us in a consulting role to oversee the restoration plan for Pastor Mark. We direct the BOAA to retain Dr. Tripp in this capacity, and in doing so also to agree that Pastor Mark only be restored when Dr. Tripp and all members of the BOAA and the Board of Elders believe that process to be complete.
  • Lastly, we direct that this information (Pastor Mark stepping down in submission to the authority of the elders) be lovingly but candidly presented to the people of Mars Hill Church, as we know that this will be helpful in rebuilding their trust in their leaders and hope for their church.

We will close this letter with a sermon excerpt from Pastor Mark, exhorting the members of Mars Hill to follow their Jesus and their elders.

Part 3 of 1st Corinthians

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Pastor Mark Driscoll

January 22, 2006:

…That’s what Paul’s saying. “I don’t remember atoning for the sins of the world. I don’t remember living a sinless life and dying as a substitute in your place and rising to forgive your sins. Was I crucified for you? No!” And his third question: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Is your ultimate allegiance to me, or Jesus? This is so important. I want you guys to respect me, the pastors and the leaders in this church. I don’t want you to have too low a view of leadership, too high a view of leadership – the extremes that we see in the church in Corinth. At the same time, your primary and ultimate allegiance is not to me, and it is not to the pastors in this church. I will say this publicly: I am one of the pastors. They can out-vote me and fire me. They have total freedom to do so.

And if at any time in the history of this church the elders discipline me, do not be loyal to me. Be loyal to them; be loyal to Jesus. And if at any point – God forbid – I should say or do something that would disqualify me from being your pastor – and I have no intentions of, and I do live a life above reproach. And I’m not a sinless man, but I do love Jesus and I do love my family and I do love you. And if by – I just shudder to say this, but if I should ever say or do anything that the elders would need to fire me, do not be loyal to me. Be loyal to Jesus; be loyal to your elders. Be loyal to the pastors in your church. Trust them. Follow them.

And if you forget, this’ll be archived. Pull it down and listen to it again, and say, “Mark, you told us to ignore you and follow the leaders in the church and Jesus.” Do that – because at the end of the day, you’re not baptized in my name. You’re not ultimately loyal to me. You are not ultimately devoted to me. My job is to point you to Jesus. He was crucified for your sins. He forgives your sins. He is your God and Savior. He’s the one when you are buried in baptism and raised in newness of life that you are celebrating and honoring – that the focus and heart and the devotion and commitment and the passion in the church must be for Jesus; no one else; no one else.

—–

With the love of Christ,

Pastor Dustin Kensrue – Director of Worship / Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Drew Hensley – Lead Pastor at Mars Hill U-District

Pastor Mark Dunford – Pastor at Mars Hill Portland

Pastor Ryan Kearns – Director of Community Groups / Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Ryan Welsh – Pastor of Theology and Discipleship

Pastor Adam Ramsey – Director of Student Ministry / Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Cliff Ellis – Director of Biblical Living / Pastor at Mars Hill West Seattle

Pastor Gary Shavey – Pastor of Biblical Living at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor James Rose – Pastor at Mars Hill Ballard

Cameroon ‘Redoubles’ Efforts to Combat Boko Haram

Cameroon ‘Redoubles’ Efforts To Combat Boko Haram

Cameroon is redoubling efforts to end violence carried out on its territory by the Nigeria-based Islamist militant group Boko Haram.  The move comes after militants reportedly forced Nigerian troops to cross the border into the Central African nation, according to information minister Issa Tchiroma.

Tchiroma said military collaboration between the two neighboring countries  remains strong despite Cameroon’s decision to close all of its borders with Nigeria due to the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

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Cameroon’s army soldiers deploy against the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram in Dabanga, northern Cameroon, June 17, 2014.

“Whenever we have information regarding this [Boko Haram] problem, we share information,” said Tchiroma.  “Cameroon soldiers have instructions to defend our borders. So they will fight for as long as they are assaulted by Boko Haram to protect our borders.”

About 700 Nigerian troops reportedly crossed into Cameroon following heavy clashes with Boko Haram militants.

“Indeed they crossed the border and they wanted us to give them the support they need,” said Tchiroma. “We welcomed them given the fact that we are in close relation with Nigeria, and we facilitated their temporary stay in our country, and they were taken back to their own nation.”

Tchiroma says the government in Yaoundé helped the Nigerian soldiers to safely return home.

He said Cameroon closed its border with Nigeria in a bid to protect citizens from Ebola and dismissed suggestions that the military cooperation between the two countries could be derailed due to the closing.

“We have decided not to spare any effort in order to contain the aggression and to push [Boko Haram] back to keep them out of our nation,” said Tchiroma.

He said the country is grateful for the pledge of international support to help Cameroon combat the security threat posed by Boko Haram militants.

“Many other nations have promised to give us the assistance including The United States, European Union, France, China, [and] United Kingdom, have promised to give us the necessary support in terms of information, and any kind of necessary collaboration,” Tchiroma said.

Nigeria Military Launches ‘Operation’ Against Boko Haram

Nigeria’s military spokesman says the national army launched an “operation” against the violent Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Gwoza, a town in the country’s northwest the militants claimed they captured.

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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.

Major General Chris Olukolade also said senior military officials are in close contact with their counterparts in Cameroon after some Nigerian soldiers battling Boko Haram militants “found themselves” in the neighboring country’s territory.

“The normal protocol for addressing such issues has been completed by discussions and interactions between the military authorities. And by that we’ve been able to smoothen issues, and the troops are on the way to joining their units at the moment,” said Olukolade.

He said the military is gathering intelligence from a video of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, who announced the militants have established Islamic law in Gwoza. Olukolade said Nigeria will not tolerate militants’ claim to control any part of the country.

“We have seen that report much as we are studying it for intelligence purpose. I can say that the whole claim is an empty claim that cannot be sustained,” said Olukolade. “No group of terrorists would be allowed to have any claim to any portion of Nigeria, and to that extant any group that is making such claim is only delusive.”

Olukolade said the military has the capacity to combat the security threat posed by the militants and dismissed criticisms that the lack of proper equipment forced some soldiers to abandon the fight against Boko Haram fighters, who analysts say are better equipped.

“The criticism has its various prisms, major among which is perhaps intended as a psychological warfare on our troops to demoralize them. But to the best of our knowledge like all other armies, we do not have all that we require at the moment, but we are maximizing all that we have to achieve the result of dealing with terrorists and keeping them off our country,” said Olukolade.

“All that we can boast of at the moment is that we have the capacity to manage the situation. We are not going to relent, until we handle the situation,” said Olukolade. “The claim of saying we are not equipped is not going to deter us from achieving that result. We are getting incrementally improved in our equipment and weapons. We are sure that…with the way we are handling the situation we will soon achieve our results somehow.”

Some Nigerians are worried that security agencies haven’t prevented brazen attacks by Boko Haram militants. They cite recent attacks carried out by the militants on unarmed civilians in parts of the country as examples of the need for the security agencies to do more to protect lives and property.

Olukolade says the concerns are legitimate, but added that the military is determined to defeat the militants.

“[This] is giving a lot of concerns to many people and it is understandable. People are traumatized, but it is consistent with terrorists. We are working the appropriate way to handle it and ensure that we [prevent] unnecessary civilian casualties in the process,” said Olukolade. “At the moment, we are fashioning out what we believe will get us that result and we are going to reverse this trend, all things being equal, in a very short while.”

Vatican: Former diplomat who abused children could face extradition

Vatican: Former Diplomat Who Abused Children Could Face Extradition

By David Gibson

(RNS) As Pope Francis tries to reshape the Catholic Church’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis, the case of Jozef Wesolowski , the former nuncio — or Vatican ambassador — to the Dominican Republic has drawn close scrutiny, most recently in a Sunday New York Times articlethat detailed the former archbishop’s predations.

The story also recounted how Wesolowski was brought back to the Vatican to face charges there rather than in the Dominican Republic because he had diplomatic immunity — an argument that sounded legalistic to many, and could undermine the pontiff’s “get tough” stance.

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Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is pictured during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found the archbishop guilty of sexual abuse of minors and has ordered that he be laicized.

Late Monday, the Vatican responded with a statement explaining that since Wesolowski was defrocked in June, he is no longer an archbishop nor is he a Vatican diplomat and when his appeals are exhausted he “might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him. ”

What that could mean for Wesolowski is unclear. It’s not known whether the Vatican has an extradition agreement with the Dominican Republic (or Wesolowski’s native Poland), or whether Italy could try or extradite him. The former archbishop has been spotted by fellow Dominican prelates strolling around Rome’s historic district.

Here is the full text of the statement from the Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office:

Former nuncio Jozef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him. The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.

It is important to note that former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity, and has been previously stated, the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.

Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media, it is important to note that the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic.

Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.

We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram 'Caliphate' Claim

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram ‘Caliphate’ Claim

ABUJA—

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.

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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.

Michael Brown’s funeral echoes with cries for justice

Michael Brown’s Funeral Echoes With Cries For Justice

By Yamiche Alcindor, Rick Jervis and John Bacon

ST. LOUIS (RNS)  Justice was a recurring theme as thousands of mourners packed the mammoth Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Monday (Aug. 25) for the funeral of Michael Brown, a black teen whose fatal shooting following a confrontation with a white police officer set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the speakers, called for a “fair and impartial investigation” into the shooting.

“We are not anti-police, we respect police,” Sharpton said. “But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with.”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing Brown’s family, alluded to the “three-fifths” clause in the Constitution for counting slaves (which actually was an anti-slavery clause) and demanded that Brown get “full justice, not three-fifths justice.”

Brown’s body was being laid to rest, but the controversy surrounding the Aug. 9 shooting was far from over. Prosecutors have not determined whether the Ferguson police officer, 28-year-old Darren Wilson, will face charges in Brown’s death.

The service began with energy, including songs from a church choir and Scripture readings. The line from Scripture: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” drew loud applause.

Several family members shared stories of Brown, telling how the 18-year-old had promised to make something of himself.

Michael “stated to the family that one day the world would know his name. He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy,” Brown’s cousin, Eric Davis, told the crowd. “But we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”

Davis encouraged people to express their anger at the polls.

thumbRNS FERGUSON PRAY081814 427x288 Michael Brown’s Funeral Echoes With Cries For Justice

Activist and television show host Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant on Sunday (Aug. 17), during a rally for justice for an unarmed teen shot by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. Protests and anger have broken out in the Ferguson Community since Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Every time change has come, it’s come through the youth and the young generation,” Davis said. “This generation is saying we have had enough of this senseless killing. We have had enough of this.”

Michael Brown’s step mother, Cal Brown, said Michael shared similar memories. “Mike-Mike,” as he was called, had promised to “shake the world.”

She said he had been dreaming of death and bloody sheets just days before he died.

Michael Brown Sr., had urged supporters not to protest Monday out of respect for his son. Sharpton also discouraged violent protest, saying anyone involved in such activity must do so in their own name, not Michael Brown’s name.

The request was a hard sell outside the church, where members of the New Black Panther Party and Panthers for Justice started brief “Black Power” chants, fists punching the air.

Bila Mohammad, of Panthers for Justice, said he wished Michael Brown’s family hadn’t discouraged protests. “This is the day,” he said. “The community needs to come together, in a non-violent way.”

He added: “There will be more protests. … In the words of Malcolm X, ‘When you tell your people to put their guns down, we’ll put ours down, too.”

Earlier, mourners began lining up under a blistering sun more than three hours before the funeral.

One half hour before the service, police informed visitors that the church had reached its 2,500-person capacity. They directed them to an adjacent auditorium that seats 1,000 people. Soon that room also was overflowing with mourners. A 300-seat annex also filled quickly.

A few hundred visitors unable to get into the service milled around outside cordially, allowing family members to enter and chatting with one another. One woman passed out small green and purple ribbons that people pinned to their shirts. But anger simmered under the surface.

Quincy Harts, 40, of St. Louis, was outside the church wearing a T-shirt with Brown’s picture and the words: “No Justice, No Peace.”

He said he’ll respect the family’s wishes of no protests — for now.

“Ain’t nobody too happy about this,” Harts said. “You’re going to see more protests until (Wilson) goes to jail.”

Angela Jones-Peaks, 43, of nearby Jennings, asked her supervisor for a few hours off Monday morning to attend the service. Having two sons of her own motivated her to attend, she said.

“It’s scary every time they leave home,” Jones-Peaks said. “I wanted to support this family, let them know we’re here for them.”

(Yamiche Alcindor, Rick Jervis and John Bacon write for USA Today.)

Hunt for Journalist Killer Focuses on British Rapper

Hunt For Journalist Killer Focuses On British Rapper

The hunt for the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist Jim Foley is focusing on British jihadists, including a one-time British rapper known as L Jinny.

The Islamic State group has attracted hundreds of Western followers, including some 500 Britons and 100 Americans.

L Jinny, whose real name is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, is believed to be one of them.

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U.S. journalist Jim Foley

His father, Adel Abdel Bary, thought to have been a close associate of Osama bin Laden, was extradited on terrorism charges to the United States.

Photos of L Jinny posted on social media sites show a skinny young man sporting a goatee.

British intelligence agencies have been working around the clock to identify the man with a British accent who took a knife to Foley’s throat in a video the extremist group released last week.

Although the killer’s face was masked with a black hood on the video, his voice and British accent can clearly be heard. Intelligence agencies are said to be using sophisticated voice recognition and surveillance technology to identify the killer.

A German rapper known as Deso Dogg also is believed to have joined the extremist group.

Mark Driscoll’s books pulled from the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay stores

Mark Driscoll To Step Down While Mars Hill Elders Review Charges

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey

(RNS) Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while Mars Hill reviews formal charges lodged against him from previous pastors.

Returning from vacation Sunday (Aug. 24), Driscoll addressed Mars Hill worship services through a pre-recorded message. The 43-year-old pastor has been under fire in recent months for plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds and abuse of power.

Mark Driscoll 427x234 Mark Driscoll To Step Down While Mars Hill Elders Review Charges

Driscoll has been an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years.

Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging details of the events surrounding the church’s turmoil, said he is aware of other elders planning to resign or considering it. “According to sources in church this morning, Driscoll said he is meeting with mature Christian men unrelated to the church,” Throckmorton wrote.

A Mars Hill spokesperson has not returned requests for comment.

Respected preacher and author John Piper, who received some backlash for inviting Driscoll to his 2006 Desiring God conference, tweeted his reaction to this news.

I hope Mark Driscoll feels a tidal wave of hope-filled prayer for a new day and a new man in this season. http://t.co/aG4CGMMl0i

— John Piper (@JohnPiper) August 24, 2014

Driscoll has faced increasing turmoil this past year, though he has long been controversially popular within evangelical circles. “But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding,” The New York Times wrote on its front page on Saturday (Aug. 23).

“He was really important — in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, told the Times. “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships — which he himself has confessed repeatedly — was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

Mars Hill Church has claimed as many as 14,000 members at 15 locations across five states each Sunday.

Earlier this week, 21 former Mars Hill pastors filed charges against Driscoll, saying that he has engaged in a pattern of abusive and intimidating conduct and has not changed.

Mars Hill also canceled its fall Resurgence Conference, which was to feature recently resigned board members Paul Tripp and James MacDonald as speakers. Driscoll was removed as closing speaker at an October church conference in Dallas and stricken from the speaker list at a series of four Christian “Act Like Men” conferences.

And earlier this month, Driscoll was removed from Acts 29, a church-planting network of more than 500 churches he helped found, after board members said they found a pattern of “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” board members told Driscoll.

Driscoll recently admitted to and apologized for comments he made under the pseudonym “William Wallace II” where he posted statements critical of feminism, homosexuality and “sensitive emasculated” men.

He has been provocative, occasionally profane, and has faced more recent allegations of plagiarism and inflating his book sales. “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for,” he said late last year of plagiarism charges. He also apologized in March, saying “my angry-young-prophet days are over.”

After Acts 29 removed Driscoll from its membership, LifeWay Christian Resources, the nation’s second largest Christian book retailer, pulled Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.

Hans / Pixabay

Modern Bread Lines: 1 In 7 Americans 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

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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.)