INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Luis Palau draws 425,000 in two days in Guatemala City

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A two-day evangelistic festival drew an estimated 425,000 people to Parque de la Democracia in Guatemala's capital city, capping a 10-day regional campaign led by evangelist Luis Palau and setting the stage for a month-long community service effort involving tens of thousands of volunteers.

The March 13-14 festival drew Guatemala's president, first lady, vice president and three ministers of state, according to a statement from the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association. A total of 3,200 Guatemalan churches invited Palau to hold the campaign, which involved 25 outreach events. Local leadership included Danilo Pérez, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala. Hundreds of local pastors and more than 25,000 volunteers worked on grassroots organization for the campaign.

Palau's "Season of Service" community outreach model mobilized volunteers to provide free medical and dental care to more than 8,500 people, help clean up neighborhoods and schools and provide meals for more than 40,000 children. The same model will be used later this year for campaigns in Scotland, Rwanda and the United States.

WIDOW SENTENCED TO LASHES, PRISON -- A 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for allowing two young men who were not close relatives to enter her home.

Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi man, asked Fahd al-Anzi, her late husband's nephew, and Hadiyan bin Zein, the nephew's friend and business partner, to bring her five loaves of bread. Saudi Arabia's rigid interpretation of Islamic Sharia law prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from interacting.

The March 3 verdict ordered Sawadi's punishment and called for her to be deported after serving her sentence, the Associated Press reported. The two men also were convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison time. The woman's lawyer, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, said he planned to appeal the verdict.

The court based its ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption, according to the AP. "How can a verdict be issued based on suspicion?" asked a columnist for the Al-Watan newspaper. "A group of people are misusing religion to serve their own interests."

SRI LANKA TABLES ANTI-CONVERSION LAW -- An anti-conversion bill that would have criminalized humanitarian assistance provided by religious groups has been tabled in Sri Lanka's parliament.

The Buddhist political party proposing the bill claimed it would only restrict "fundamentalist" groups from using monetary rewards or coercive methods to convert people. The human rights organization International Christian Concern, however, argued that the language of the bill was so broad that relief efforts of non-Buddhist religious groups could have been subjected to criminal penalties.

A pastor in Sri Lanka reported that the anti-conversion bill has been tabled by lawmakers, meaning that it neither passed nor failed. If lawmakers want to reintroduce the bill, it will have to go through channels that were bypassed when it was proposed this time. This was the third time in four years the anti-conversion bill had been advanced and tabling the proposal may mean it will not be considered again for some time, the pastor reported.

The bill was "especially concerning because it is the culmination of a widespread pattern of violent attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka," International Christian Concern said when the bill was proposed. "Similar measures enacted in several Indian states such as Orissa have led to an increase in attacks on Christians. If this bill is passed, it would likely serve to legitimize anti-Christian persecution."


Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.