INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: 5 missionary families evacuate strife-torn Guinea; Police withdraw from Gaza church; ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Eight days after Guinea’s head of state declared martial law to restore order in the streets of the West African nation, Lansana Conte’s counterparts from neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone paid him a visit in hopes of keeping the unrest from spilling over into their countries. Five missionary families were among the evacuees to Senegal because of the violence.

The two heads of state wanted to talk with Conte about security issues, including rumors that his government was recruiting Liberian mercenaries to fight for Conte if civil war breaks out in Guinea, according to Reuters news service. The protests have been led by labor unions that demand a power transfer by Conte, who has ruled the country for 23 years. More than 120 people have been killed since the first of the year.

New Tribes Mission revealed that three missionary families living nearest the violence had evacuated to Senegal, but other New Tribes families in the region were planning to remain where they were. Two Southern Baptist missionary couples also evacuated.

POLICE WITHDRAW FROM GAZA CHURCH -- Police who occupied Gaza Baptist Church Feb. 2 withdrew from the building a week later, apparently because negotiations for a Palestinian unity government were going better. Pastor Hanna Massad told Open Doors that the church held services Feb. 11 after canceling services the previous week because of street fighting.

Palestinian Authority police commandeered the church building to use as a lookout against militants they had been fighting since December. Battles between the Fatah and Hamas factions killed more than 80 Palestinians, including a bus driver for the church.

Massad had been concerned that a firefight might damage the building beyond the congregation’s ability to repair it, but damage apparently was limited to three broken windows and the church door, which police demolished when they seized the building.

UZBEK PASTOR FACES PRISON TERM -- Dmitry Shestakov, pastor of an evangelical church in Andijan, Uzbekistan, faces up to 20 years in prison in a trial that is expected to begin very soon. The 37-year-old pastor was arrested Jan. 21 by Uzbek secret police and charged with “incitement of national, racial and religious enmity” and “illegal manufacture and spread of literature which arouses dissension between religions,” according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Shestakov has been at odds with the secret police since June 2006, when he refused to give police a list of his church members. He was forced into hiding with his wife and children when the regional prosecutor accused him of treason. He was arrested when his family was located in a nearby town.

Persecution of Christians has escalated in Uzbekistan in recent years, leading the U.S. State Department to add the country to its list of the most egregious violators of religious freedom. Radical Muslims in the country harass Christians, and the government represses Christians as part of its fight against radical Islam.

VIETNAMESE HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER HONORED -- A human rights organization based in New York City will honor a Vietnamese attorney who has defended Christians suffering persecution at the hands of Vietnam’s government. Nguyen van Dai was one of 45 writers from 22 countries selected by Human Rights Watch to receive Hellman/Hammett grants, which recognize writers who have been targets of political persecution, according to the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Dai is one of only a few human rights lawyers practicing in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch. He has been the primary legal defender for the country’s Protestant churches, most notably the case of Nguyen Hong Quang, a Mennonite pastor and former political prisoner.

Dai was arrested in August 2006 and in November was placed under house arrest after six days of interrogation. Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Sophie Richardson said: “This is an especially important year to recognize dissident writers in Vietnam. Vietnam's emerging democracy movement has become bolder, more outspoken and public, making activists more vulnerable to government reprisals. The Hellman/Hammett awards give these writers international attention and some protection.”

NEPALI PEACE CREATING OPPORTUNITIES -- Eleven years after Nepal’s communist rebellion began, a peace plan is leading the country toward a political power-sharing plan and creating opportunities for Nepali Christian ministries. Elections in June will select representatives to rewrite Nepal's constitution and decide whether to abolish Nepal's monarchy.

“It's a time of transition, but it's relatively peaceful in Nepal right now,” Doug VanBronkhorst of Interserve told Mission Network News. “There's a transition in Nepal now, too, from the traditional NGO expatriate organizations being led by foreigners to them being led by Nepali Christians and the Nepali church taking the initiative in some of those programs.”

Interserve’s Christian professionals work in training, mentoring and discipleship roles with the new Nepali Christian groups, VanBronkhorst said. The organization also provides English as a foreign language programs and assists with medical training supported by community development and micro-enterprise education.

TRAIN BOMBING HURTS CHRISTIAN WORK -- Leaders of India and Pakistan have vowed a terrorist train bombing that killed 68 people in northern India’s volatile Kashmir region will not derail peace talks, but Christian workers report the attack has made their lives more difficult.

Authorities believe militant Islamist groups were behind the attacks against the cross-border “peace train” 50 miles north of Delhi, according to Reuters news service. Extremists are alarmed that relations between India and Pakistan have been improving since war was narrowly averted in 2002. Pakistan's foreign minister arrived in New Delhi Feb. 20 to discuss the peace process. India's prime minister is expected to visit Islamabad soon.

"It's very difficult to do any missionary work in the Kashmir area,” Operation Mobilization’s Sam Paul told Mission Network News. “[There's] not much Christian activity, because the government is taking care of the terrorism that is on the ground." Travel is becoming increasingly difficult, and government attempts to target terrorists often result in Christians being singled out.


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