INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Gaza Christian kidnapped, forced to marry Muslim; ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A Christian university professor in Gaza was kidnapped, forced to marry a Muslim professor at the same university and now her family is being told she wants no contact with them unless they convert to Islam.

Sana al-Sayegh, head of the Science and Technology Department at Gaza City's Palestine International University, disappeared June 24, according to Palestinian Authority officials and the woman's family. Five days later, she contacted her family to say she was being held against her will so she could be married to a Muslim man.

Officials of Gaza's Hamas government denied the charge, but her family says she would never willingly convert to Islam, according to Mission Network News. A few days after the phone call, they received a copy of conversion documents signed by two witnesses, one of which is the president of the university. Requests from Sayegh's family and Christian leaders for a meeting with Hamas leaders were denied.

Returning to Christianity is a crime worthy of death in many Muslim societies. The kidnapping, rape, "marriage" and "conversion" of Christian girls and women is a common occurrence in some predominantly Muslim countries.

CUBAN BELIEVERS RECEIVE 200,000 BIBLES -- The largest shipment of Bibles in the history of Cuba has been delivered by the American Bible Society and WorldServe Ministries, a missions organization with offices in Texas and British Columbia.

The shipment of 200,000 children's Bibles is more than twice the size of the previous largest delivery, according to WorldServe's Darryl Wright. Since November 2005, the organization and its partners have delivered 100,000 complete Bibles, 100,000 New Testaments, and 500,000 copies of the Gospel of John to Cuba.

Bibles are scarce in Cuba and few Cubans could afford them if they were available. The problem is compounded by the rapid growth of house churches in the country. In 1990, there were about 1,100 churches and house churches in Cuba, Wright said. Now the total number of congregations is estimated at close to 17,000.

STARVATION CRISIS LOOMS IN ZIMBABWE -- Severe drought and economic meltdown have put large numbers at risk of starvation in Zimbabwe, and many families are trying to flee across the border into neighboring countries.

Farmers in South Africa are patrolling the border themselves, in an effort to stem the flood of refugees from Zimbabwe, where police are conducting night raids on businesses trying to avoid price controls by opening only at night, news services report. The United Nations World Food Program recently asked the international community to help more than 3 million Zimbabweans facing severe food shortages over the next eight months.

Crippled production and skyrocketing inflation -- calculated at anywhere from 3,000 to 11,000 percent -- make food hard to get. Police are forcing businessmen to set a low price for goods on their shelves, and then buying up all of it or allowing friends to come in and buy it, a Bulwayo resident told the Independent news service.

While many humanitarian organizations are responding, the most critical need is for food, according to Scott Hendrix of Global Aid Network, an international relief organization based in Dallas, Texas. Staff members in Zimbabwe are now requesting food in lieu of paychecks, but relief shipments are opening doors for Gospel witness.

"Many people won't come to a church," Hendrix told Mission Network News. "But when you come into a community and they're worried about feeding their family, and you're able to give them some food and talk to them about the love of Jesus Christ, we've seen some amazing results."

CHURCH GROWTH IN CHINA A POTENT FORCE -- Ten thousand Chinese become Christians each day, and by mid-century the People's Republic of China may be home to the world's largest concentration of Christians -- a prospect that holds serious political implications for the entire world.

"China may be for the 21st century what Europe was during the eighth and 11th centuries, and America has been during the past 200 years: the natural ground for mass evangelization," writes "Spengler," a columnist for Asia Times. "If this occurs, the world will change beyond our capacity to recognize it. Islam might defeat the western Europeans, simply by replacing their diminishing numbers with immigrants, but it will crumble beneath the challenge from the East."

The World Christian Database at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates the number of Chinese Christians at 111 million -- an increase of approximately 4,300 percent growth in the past 50 years. On top of that, Spengler noted, 400 million Chinese "have moved from poverty to affluence in a single generation and 10 million to 15 million new migrants come from the countryside each year, the greatest movement of people in history."

China's "house church" movements now minister to as many as 100 million Christians, Spengler noted: "This quasi-underground movement may now exceed in adherents the 75 million members of the Chinese Communist Party; in a generation it will be the most powerful force in the country."

As China's economic and political influence grows, the current growth of Christianity, Islam and other religions in the country could significantly affect the role it plays in the global balance of power, says John Allen, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

"How things shake out religiously, therefore, is of tremendous strategic importance," Allen wrote Aug. 3. "If Christianity ends up at around 20 percent of the population, for example, China could become an exponentially larger version of South Korea ... a more democratic, rule-oriented, basically pro-Western society.

"On the other hand, if dynamic Muslim movements create an Islamic enclave in the western half of the country, with financial and ideological ties to fundamentalist Wahhabi forms of Islam in Saudi Arabia, at least that part of China could become a wealthier and more influential Afghanistan. If growing religious pluralism in China becomes fractious, it could mean that a well-armed and wealthy superpower is destabilized by internal conflict, posing risks to global peace and security."

BANKING PARTNERSHIP ATTACKS EXTREME POVERTY -- Modern banking technology and "micro loans" are helping poor Africans work their way out of poverty, according to World Relief, the international relief and development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.

A "microfinance" program established by World Relief in Rwanda 10 years ago is being expanded in a partnership with Opportunity International, an organization in Oak Brook, Ill., focused on alleviating extreme poverty around the world. The Urwego Opportunity Microfinance Bank will provide small business loans, savings, life insurance services and even ATM cards in a country where most people have no way to keep their earnings safe.

The 17 microfinance banks opened by Opportunity International since 2000 offer poor people their first chance to put money in an interest-bearing savings account. Having a safe place to accumulate savings not only allows families to improve their lies, but it also helps countries like Rwanda develop capital resources for new business and municipal improvements.

"Microfinance has played a key role in building peace and reconciliation through trade as Rwanda continues to recover from the horrors of the genocide," said Sammy Mah, president of World Relief.

Laurie Cook, CEO of World Relief Canada, said, "We believe that providing financial services to those who are entrenched in poverty is actually a matter of justice and an imperative for those of us who are blessed with more than our share of resources. What is being provided with this new venture is the opportunity for many to reach the first rung on the ladder."


Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.

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