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August 12 - 18, 2018

The United States State Department hosted its first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

The United States State Department hosted its first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last month, a much-anticipated three-day conference that was attended by delegates from over 80 countries including some where there are religious freedom concerns.

Prior the ministerial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the event would be "more than just talk" and the result of the ministerial would be concrete steps of action.

What resulted was the issuance of several documents urging the international community to protect vulnerable religious minorities and abolish laws restricting religious freedom.

In addition, foreign delegations offered their thoughts on the importance of religious freedom, with some providing details on the actions they plan or already have taken to help facilitate the freedom of religion and belief.

The ministerial concluded with the release of the Potomac Declaration, a document that calls for the right to religious freedom for everyone everywhere in the world.

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was enacted over 70 years ago, the Potomac Declaration explains that still about 80 percent of the world continues to live in places where their religious freedom is violated in some form or fashion.

The preamble to the new declaration says that it is time for the international community to "address these challenges directly."

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Rwanda: Government Closes More Than 8000 Churches

The Rwanda Governance Board continues to close churches it says fail to meet requirements laid down at the beginning of the year. New requirements set in place for those congregations that want to continue ministry are also complicating efforts to comply. Many see the closures as part of an effort by the government to make its aggressive secular stance clear.

According to a report by Rwanda's pro-government KT Press, more than 8,000 churches have now been closed, and the number keeps growing.

"On checking which churches were included, we learned that all churches are suffering the same fate, and that even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close," a local analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor.

World Watch Monitor learned that in one village the church was closed while a wedding was ongoing. The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed.

Another church was stopped from having services and other meetings (such as home groups) in a school hall as an alternative after all the churches in that parish had been closed. The church had timber instead of a metal door and window frames, and was told the roof also needed to be elevated "just a little."

"It seems that the local authorities in the different districts initially had some freedom about the degree to which they could enforce the new requirements," the local analyst said. "However, it now seems that those who were more lenient have been rebuked and have become stricter. In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups."

One congregation now meets in a church building in another neighborhood. Another congregation's members walk 20 km to attend church in a neighboring community after their church was closed.

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'They Consider This a Very Precious Book': African Tribe Dances for Joy After Receiving Bible in Own Language

The Tembo people are literally dancing for joy after finally receiving the Bible in their native tongue thanks to a 21-year effort by Wycliffe Bible Translators.

It was a dangerous undertaking. This African tribe is situated deep in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they face nonstop violence and persecution.

"They experienced war and insecurity in their area for more than 20 years," Jon Hampshire, Communications Coordinator for Wycliffe, told CBN News. "They've had to work with this threat on their welfare and the welfare of their families the entire time they were doing this translation."

Hampshire and his wife Cindi have spent the last two decades working to bring the gospel to the Congolese in their own language.

He says the Tembo people have faced displacement, deadly combat, ethnic and political unrest, and even a volcanic eruption that destroyed many homes.

"I would get emails from them saying 'Today, we were doing translation work and the bullets were flying and we were hiding under out desks.' Yet, these friends of ours persevered and continued working through these great challenges," Hampshire said.

None of that compares to the joy of finally having the Bible in their own language. They welcomed the new Bibles with praising, singing, and dancing.

"They've had the Bible in Swahili, which is the trade language of the area and they've had the Bible in French, which is the national language, but these languages don't speak to their hearts like their mother tongue does," he said. "We've heard testimony after testimony of people who've said 'I've heard that verse in French and I've heard that verse in Swahili, but I didn't ever really know what it meant until I heard it in my mother tongue.'"

The regional vice governor was so moved by the accomplishment he vowed to place the new Bible in every school in his province.

Now, the translators are working on four new translations for other Congolese languages. .

Hampshire says Christians who have the luxury of reading the Bible in their native tongue have a lot to learn from these translators.

"They consider this a very precious book. We've got the Bible in English, in my mother tongue. We've got the Bible in many different versions. These people have one version, one New Testament," he said.

There are hundreds of languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone and Wycliffe will continue translating the Bible one language at a time.

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Samuel Rodriguez, Johnnie Moore to Head Up Congress of Christian Leaders with Greg Laurie, Jack Graham Among Global Pastors Named to Board

American megachurch Pastors Greg Laurie, Jack Graham and Jentezen Franklin are among the international church leaders expected to join the inaugural board of the recently launched Congress of Christian Leaders.

The new interdenominational representative body, which was launched by influential Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez and evangelical communications executive Johnnie Moore this spring to build "Gospel unity across the global body of Christ," will hold its first meeting sometime in the coming months.

The CCL issued a news release Thursday listing the names of 16 church leaders from across the globe who are a part of the initial wave of board members to the body. The leaders represent many of the largest Christian movements worldwide and have "collective influence exceeding many millions of Christians on six continents."

"What I love the most about this initial set of board members is that they lead or are deeply connected to vast local church communities around the world," Moore said in a statement. "The CCL is not meant to replace or even subsidize the work of the global church but to bring together leaders and to serve those leaders and their communities. This group can move mountains; actually, they can move continents."

The initial wave of board members will be followed by a second wave to be announced in the coming weeks. Moore said that no date has been set for their inaugural meeting.

The first group of board members is expected to include Graham, the senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Laurie, the pastor of the multi-campus Harvest Christian Fellowship based in California; and Franklin, the pastor of the multi-site Free Chapel Worship Center based in Georgia.

Along with Rodriguez and Moore, Laurie, Graham, and Franklin have engaged as informal evangelical advisers to the Trump administration.

Others included in the first group of board members include:

At Boshoff of the Christian Revival Church in South Africa

Tiago Brunet of the da Casa Destino in Brazil

Joseph D'Souza of The Good Shepherd Church in India

Russell Evans of Planetshakers in Australia

Leon Fontaine of Springs Church in Canada

Fermin Garcia of Grupo de Unidad Christiana de Mexico

Sergio Hornung of the Comunidad Cristiana Agua Viva in Peru

David Ingman of Comunidad de Fe in Ecuador

Canon J. John, an evangelist in the United Kingdom

Cash Luna of Casa de Dios in Guatemala

Peter Mortlock of the City Impact Church in New Zealand

John Milton Rodriguez of Mision Paz a las Naciones in Colombia

Wanda Rolon of Iglesia La Senda Antigua in Puerto Rico

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California Church Plans to Build Brewery, Hold Church Services While Serving Beer

Would you drink at church?

The Greater Purpose Community Church has held services for five years in Santa Cruz, but a new and interesting concept has gained them new followers.

"We decided to sell the building, because for us a church is a community and a movement," said Pastor Chris VanHall. "It’s not brick and mortar."

Sure enough, the church looked for a new place and landed at a food lounge. A community space, with plenty of beer taps.

"There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t drink alcohol in a responsible manner," VanHall said.

Every Sunday, the parishoners join to pray, listen and drink beer.

"Why not serve beer when they’re reading Bible verses? I thought it was genius," said food lounge owner Andrea Mollenauer.

VanHall said everyone drinks responsibly, having a glass of wine or beer in a comfortable atmosphere where "people cannot only listen to a progressive take on theology but can also engage in conversation."

The space has always been a temporary site, a tasting ground of sorts for a grand plan.

"I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if a church could figure out a way to make a product where they split the profits with local community service organizations, we were like ‘hey, we love beer, we love making beer, why not do a brewery?'" said VanHall.

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'What Reconciliation Looks Like': Fla. Church That Once Banned Blacks Now Has First-Ever African-American Pastor

A Florida congregation that once refused to allow African Americans to attend worship services recently appointed its first African-American pastor.

The Rev. Juana Jordan is now serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church of St. Augustine, a congregation with about 500 members.

Jordan officially began her appointment at the church on July 1. In an interview she explained that while she "feels good to be the pastor of any church appointment," this particular appointment is "an awesome privilege."

"I'm humbled by it because I'm always thinking about how God makes decisions and works within the minds and with the hands of people in order to put us exactly where we need to be," said Jordan.

"God will orchestrate and say 'this is where you're supposed to be.' You may not know exactly why you're there and what all this entails in you being there, but there is something in that placement that is going to allow for your growth as well as going to allow for the greater glory of God to be seen."

Jordan said that thus far "like any new job," the appointment has been "beautifully chaotic" as she gets used to leading the FUMC.

"I think about this redemptive work of God ... of God saying 'I'm always in this process of showing what my redemption looks like and showing what reconciliation looks like," she continued.

"Because that's the work that God is doing. God is always reconciling us back to God as well as reconciling us back to each other. And so I would think that this is evident of that work, what reconciliation looks like under God's economy."

Jordan's acceptance as head of the congregation is a complete change from over 50 years ago, when FUMC of St. Augustine turned away African Americans seeking to integrate the church.

The Rev. Jay Therrell, district superintendent of the Florida Conference's North East District, said that in a specific incident 54 years ago, two African-American women were denied entry into the church.

Therrell also said that FUMC's former pastor, the Rev. Pat Turner-Sharpton, oversaw a "service of reconciliation during which the congregation apologized for their sins."

"Both women were able to be present for the service. Rev. Jordan's appointment to First UMC is another step in this congregation's history of sharing the love of Jesus," noted Therrell.

Florida Conference Resident Bishop Ken Carter, who also serves as president of the UMC Council of Bishops, explained that FUMC's actions were typical of that time.

"A half century ago many Christian churches reflected their communities. In the deep South, that did mean segregation," explained Bishop Carter.

"This was the dominant culture; and yet over time courageous Christians of all races began to question this in light of their reading of the New Testament."

Calling Jordan "a gifted and visionary pastor and leader," Carter also said that FUMC "has strengths to offer the community and a past to overcome."

"I love Rev. Jordan's language of writing a new story, and yet it is one that incorporates our old story of racism. The Gospel has the power to do that," added Carter.

"A couple of our most significant responses to racism are the appointment of clergy to multicultural churches and across racial differences, and equipping preachers to communicate the Gospel in ways that people go more deeply into a Christian faith that questions cultural patterns of racism with which many of us become comfortable."

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