by Robert L. Niklaus
News reports from around the world.
A NEW LEASE
In a surprise move last year, the Peruvian government announced it would not be renewing its contract With the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the academic arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators (see October, 1976, issue, page 198). By January, 1977, the government planned to take control of all properties and operations of the organization.
Instead the government renewed the contract for five more years. The official reversal resulted from months of investigation and evaluation of the Institute’s work, and from strong support within the government for the Institute.
An editorial in Expresso, one of Peru’s leading newspapers, said, "In spite of the effective and meritorious service rendered by the Institute of Linguistics (ILV); in spite of ILV serving under contract with the Minister of Education and other public entities with whom they constantly collaborated, a few months ago there arose an absurd, violent and well-planned news campaign against the group accusing the members of violating laws of the land, of being in the service of the CIA, of alienating the natives of the jungle, and other unfounded and equally unjust accusations."
"As would be expected, there was no lack of steady, official voices which refuted the flagrant manipulation of political extremists against the linguistic group."
"The government would have committed grave error to cancel the service of a group contracted by Peruvian education and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude."
This welcome news came on the heels of another victory. Wycliffe Bible Translators in Colombia had been under attack by the same kind of coalition which attacked the organization in Peru. Its future in the country was jeopardized, but support within the government and among the people influenced the government to reverse its decision and permit Wycliffe to remain and carry on its work in Colombia.
These two developments should encourage Wycliffe translators now faced with a crisis in another South American nation. The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) of Brazil informed the translators that their work among Indian tribal groups would now be limited to a six-year period. They can then apply for permission to work among another group. Those who will have exceeded the six-year limit by the end of 1977, however, will have to terminate their work and will not be allowed to begin another project.
The FUNAI-imposed time limit is about one-half the time needed to translate the New Testament into an Indian language. The most recent, the Hixkaryana New Testament, took two people sixteen years to complete.
The FUNAI action could have at least one positive result, according to Glyn Griffiths, a member of the Brazilian branch. Although Wycliffe has been in Brazil since 1956, and has started work on forty-four Indian languages, the Brazilian Home Council was not formed until 1975. Since then, two Brazilians have been accepted into Wycliffe membership. "This new situation," reported Mr. Griffiths, "could give impetus to the involvement of Brazilian Christians in Bible translation."
The church’s role in society is no academic question for the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America.
The issue has triggered the death of at least fifteen priests and the torture of many more during the last few years. It has spurred the expulsion of dozens of clerics in 1977 alone. It has split the church into "Progressive" and "traditional" camps to an extent unknown since the early nineteenth century. It has turned the traditional alliance between the church and political conservatives into open and radical confrontation.
The church’s role in society was a major topic of the Second Vatican Council. One of the resulting pronouncements was that human dignity in the eyes of God cannot be reconciled with deep poverty in the eyes of man. The regional conference of Latin American bishops at Medellin, Colombia in 1968, applied that doctrinal precept to social injustices widely practiced in Central and South America.
In El Salvador, for example, the church called for a more equitable distribution of wealth and for land reform. A number of priests, especially Jesuits, allegedly encouraged peasants to take over unused lands belonging to wealthy landowners.
Some of the more left-wing clergy and laymen interpreted the Medellin conference pronouncements as an authorization to join forces with Marxists and other revolutionaries. Rev. Camilo Torres, a Columbian priest, joined a guerrilla force and took an active part in its operations until he was killed. Progressives in the church in Chile openly allied themselves with Marxist resident Salvador Allende. The vice-president of Guatemala accused the church in his country of becoming a vehicle for Communism by its actions in the name of renewal.
As elements within the church intensified their efforts in social activism, conservative political leaders and groups escalated their attacks on the church.
The most serious confrontation in recent times is in El Salvador. An anti-communist group known as the White Warrior Union accused Jesuit priests of complicity in the murder of a government official. They shot one priest on the day of the official’s funeral and pledged to kill the other fortyseven remaining Jesuits unless they left El Salvador by mid-July. The priests refused the ultimatum and moved into heavily guarded church schools while police and national guardsmen set up security measures in the capital.
El Salvador is not an isolated incident. New York Times reporter Alan Riding wrote that church leaders are particularly worried by the strong evidence of regional cooperation and coordination by rightists in their campaign against the priests., The exchange of information concerning priests’ activities has been stepped up between countries; methods used against the church in one country serve as models for similar action in others. El Salvador’s White Warrior Union is similar to the White Hand group in Nicaragua which has compiled a death list of progressive clergymen.
An American priest expelled from Honduras reported, "We know from a good source that there is a group of paid gunmen with a contract to kill priests and nuns. The situation of the Honduran Catholic church is no different from that of the church in El Salvador."
One result of escalated attacks on the church by conservative and anti-communist groups has been to radicalize the church. Clergymen who were once ambivalent are now closing ranks and supporting their more radical Communist- aligned colleagues.
The intensified pressure is also causing severe tensions within the church. Brazil’s traditionalist Archbishop Geraldo Sigaud accuses other bishops of being Marxist, but most of the country’s two hundred bishops repudiated him. Guatemala’s Archbishop Mario Cardinal Casariego is a hardline conservative, but the majority of his bishops are liberal.
The deep divisions within the church were highlighted in July by a visit to Chile and Argentina of Archbishop Marcel Lefebore. He is a traditionalist French cleric opposed to the Vatican’s "modernist "teachings. The militant groups of supporters that greeted him everywhere are the same conservative Catholics who support the military regimes in their countries and denounce their bishops and priests who censure the government.
Participants at the Second Vatican Council could hardly have foreseen the wide-spread results in Latin America of their efforts to make Catholic doctrinal teaching more relevant to present society. The church is more deeply divided within and assailed from without than it has been for many years in Central and South America.
The Ghana Congress of Evangelization brought together 600 delegates at the University of Science and Technology at Kumasi. The congress, held from July 12 to 20, was attended by Christian workers of many denominations and missions from all parts of the country.
Congress delegates reported a deepening conviction of the need for Christian unity in the task of national evangelization. The fellowship and spiritual bonds forged during the eight-day gathering are seen as vital contributions to fostering that unity.
Like similar congresses held around the world, this one was a follow-up to the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Ghanaian delegates to that international gathering figured largely in the planning of this national congress. The Rev. Gottfried Osei-Mensah, executive secretary of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and Miss Florence Yeboah, a Ghanaian member of that committee, were participants in the Ghana congress.
Another Lausanne participant, Bishop Festo Kivengere of Uganda, addressed the congress. Delegates were profoundly moved by his appeal to Christians to be forgiving. Now in exile from his country, the Anglican bishop told delegates, "God showed me that I owed President Amin a deep debt of forgiveness."
A highlight of the gathering was the Thursday afternoon session which featured reports on the "New Life For All" movement. First-hand reports from all parts of Ghana indicated that the outreach was having a profound effect in local churches. Speakers told of remarkable conversions, healing of church divisions, and increased giving for the support of Christian mission.
The congress provided needed practical help for delegates. The smaller seminar groups offered guidance in the areas of personal evangelism and local church evangelism.
The Ghana congress, however, focused also on the international mission picture. Mr. Osei-Mensah challenged his fellow Africans to a larger vision of evangelization as a global mandate.
"Eighty-seven per cent of the world’s population are Hindus, Muslims, and Chinese," he told his audience, "but only five per cent of the world’s mission force is working among these groups."
QUESTION OF SURVIVAL
Emperor Haile Selassie’s fall from power in 1974 signaled more than just the end of an ancient empire. It marked the beginning of a reign of such bloodshed and brutality that some observers question if Ethiopia as it now is will survive.
The moderate military leaders who led the coup d’etat were liquidated by more radial officers – who, in turn, were killed by even more radical Marxist-oriented officers. Once in power, the current strongman, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, moved swiftly to close down U. S. installations and demand the withdrawal of military personnel.
Col. Mengistu then turned to the Communist-bloc nations for both military hardware and technicians. The Soviet Union responded with $100 million of arms and ammunition. Cuba sent advisors whose numbers are estimated from 50 to 100.
The Cubans are training a civilian militia of 75,000 men in a camp near Addis Ababa. Their ranks will eventually be swelled to 200,000. They will be used along with government forces fighting insurrections in ten of Ethiopia’s fourteen provinces. Thousands of people have died since Col. Mengistu seized power in February. One recent clash took the lives of 500 students and young people.
The ruling military council, called Dergue, organized the country into departments composed of powerful local "peasant associations." An "agitator" is assigned to each group. His task is to instill revolutionary fervor among the people by any means possible.
While the central government has thus far refrained from open opposition to the churches, the local committees and their agitators have caused widespread trouble for the Christians. An intensive ideological campaign for nearly one year has vilified missionaries in many areas as "imperialists" and seriously hampered their ministry.
One exception to the central government’s non -interference in church matters was the nationalization of Radio Voice of the Gospel. RVOG was built by the Lutheran World Federation and operated by them since 1963. The government charged that the station was broadcasting "bourgeois ideology" and nationalized the $12 million center on March 12. The name was changed to Radio Voice of the Revolution. Rev. Carl Mau, LWF general secretary, says the station is now "being used for purposes entirely alien to those for which it was originally conceived and built."
Perhaps taking their cue from the RVOG take-over, local peasant associations nationalized four United Presbyterian stations. The largest medical institutions of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) were also taken over. In one three-day period seven SIM stations were visited by commune authorities who made demands, threats and accusations, and laid claim to mission property and goods.
Missionary Aviation Fellowship and SIMAIR, the air arm of SIM, were forced in May to suspend operations. SIM’s permit to operate a communications system expired in June, depriving interior stations of any contact with the outside world.
Faced with a breakdown in communications and travel, and also a breakdown in civil order, missions in Ethiopia have been pulling out their workers. SIM, the largest mission, closed twenty stations and less than 100 of the full staff of 300 remained in August. More than half the Southern Baptist staff was pulled out and the rest were put on shortterm notice. Only a "skeleton crew" of the usual fifty United Presbyterian workers were kept on. Other agencies began reassigning personnel to other countries.
The withdrawal came too late for Presbyterian missionary Dr. Donald McClure. He was killed in a refugee settlement at Gode by bandits who had earlier attacked and robbed SIM missionaries near the Somali border.
The news is not all bad from Ethiopia. In spite of unsettled conditions, SIM reports that between June and December last year, 200 new congregations were added to SIM-related Word of Life churches. In one area long resistant, 250 new converts were baptized in January. Over 6,000 attended an area conference at Soddo.
The largest-ever order of Daily Light in Amharic was printed in July. Hundreds of thousands of New Testaments are being distributed.
Withdrawal of missionary personnel does not signify the closing down of church work in Ethiopia. Although SIM presence in outlying areas is being cut back, according to a news release, all major departments of the mission continue to operate with the help of over 200 Ethiopian employees. One missionary observed, "From here on, our role in Ethiopia will probably be different from anything so far in SIM history."
A similar thing happened in Zaire during the upheavals of the 1960s. Missionaries who returned to their areas after peace was restored, found themselves in a new and exciting relationship with the nationals. They were being welcomed back as guests by Africans who had assumed roles of leadership formerly held by missionaries and were carrying forward the work.
That period of missionary exodus and return in Zaire marked the beginning of new maturity and independence of the Zaire church which have led to remarkable growth yet unabated.
The survival of the revolution in Ethiopia may be in doubt, even that of the nation itself. There is no such question concerning the Church.
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