Ancient “High Technology Civilization” in Nigeria – Scholar

Paleojudaica links to a bizarre story in the Nigerian Vanguard:

NIGERIA’S dogged cultural researcher, and erstwhile senior special assistant to the President on Arts and Culture, Catherine Acholonu-Olumba recently teamed up with India’s computer engineer and IT specialist, Ajay Prebhaka, winner of several awards as an upcoming computer “whiz kid” to undertake the most painstaking and ambitious cultural research project ever carried out on the shores of Africa.

The intrepid duo apparently discovered and translated “350 ancient stones” from Ikom in Cross River State. They concluded that

…Africa was home to a celestial, high technology civilization based in the present day location of the Sahara Desert – a civilization that was decimated by the deluge and by the war of the gods of antiquity, the hallmarks of which included the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

the Ikom stone writings were the original source-book of the ancient Sumerian epic of creation, Euuma Ellsh, dated 6000 B.C. (the original source of Genesis) and of The book of the Secrets of Enoch; that the delta location of the monoliths was the limed global seaport of Tilmun, from where great ships sailed the global seas of antiquity supplying gold, palm produce, spices, dates and copper; that Mount Cameroon (known as “The Chariots of the God” ) was the Mecca and Rome of antiquity…

Ikom stone writings gave away their sacred language – The Garamma Language – the Lost Mother Tongue of mankind, the origin of the Hebrew Qabbala and the “Tera-gramm” name of Yaweh. Off-shoots of the Garamma writing include Nsibidi of Ekpe cult of Southern Nigeria and the Ogham sacred writings of the Celtic dwarfs (Druids) of ancient British Isles.

“Celtic dwarfs”?

The article tells us that “evidence abounds”, but anyone who wants to know what that evidence actually is needs to buy the book, Garamma: Stone writings of African Adam. According to the report, this book will be “launched in various African countries and in the African diaspora soon”, a rather curious distribution strategy for someone with claims supposedly significant for the scholarly world in general.

This is the second Vanguard report on the subject. The previous one, which covered much the same ground, ends with the note:

When Dr. Acholonu completes her work, and it becomes public knowledge in Nigeria and the rest of the world, her findings will permanently alter the status of Calabar and Cross River State and perhaps, as a nation, we will have another World Heritage Site. See how academia can contribute to the growth of tourism?

And the story itself broke last month in the Daily Sun (“Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids”):

Some 350 ancient stones, called monoliths found in Ikom are said to bear writings with the exact layout as those found in France dating to the Upper Paleolithic Period of 18,000 BC –12,000 BC. Acholonu and Prabhakar deciphered these writings and found that they contain the names of gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia and what they say are astronomical details such as the names of stars in various ancient languages and records of celestial events contained in ancient scriptures.

“The interpretation of the writings reveal the name of the language in which it is written. It says that the writing is called Gram (which is the origin of the words tetragram (the Hebrew name of God), penta-gram, grammar, milli-gramme and its multiple intonation of the name of Ham which shows that it is a heritage of Ham, the ancestor of the black race.

Alas for Acholonu, “tetragram” is not the Hebrew name for God. All it means is “four letters”, as a way of referring to the actual name given the Bible, which is YHWH (often spelt in translation with vowels added as “Yahweh”). And the word “tetragram” is derived from Greek, not Hebrew, and as “Tetragrammaton” first appeared in English in 1592 (Oxford English Dictionary; I don’t know if the word can be found in other languages earlier). This is just one small point that may help judge the rest of the thesis. The mysterious stones, meanwhile, are perhaps the akwanshi, which according to the Britannica are

circles of large stones…from one to six feet high, carved in low relief to represent human figures. They are thought to be no earlier than the 16th century.

No mention of inscriptions, though.

Acholonu is the author of Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism, she is the author of a number of scholarly books and articles, none of which appear to relate to her current, Graham Hancock-like, excesses. However, her role as cultural advisor to the president was not without controversy. This Day reported last year:

Acholonu’s first effort to establish her presence was in 1999 during the Chris Ofili brouhaha. She came out strongly to condemn the London -based Nigerian artist for using elephant dung in his portrayal of the Virgin Mary in a painting of the same title. She argued that Ofili’s reason for using elephant dung as symbol for fertility and growth was of poppycock and was simply a figment of his imagination. She concluded by asking if Ofili could actually paint his mother using elephant dung. Like Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and several others, Achlonu found this work by the I998 Turner Prize winner, which was part of the Sensation exhibition at the Brooklyn museum, in 1999, very offensive.

But her reaction to this issue, rather then win support of the artists, infuriated them. In a expeditious reaction Mike Omoighe, lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology lashed out at Acholonu, saying that her utterances were misguided. Her view, he pointed out, was prejudiced and based on sentiment and not objectivity. Sighting examples from Nigeria and different African countries, he emphasized that dung is indeed a symbol of growth and fertility.

However, Acholonu’s Indian collaborator Ajay Prabhakar remains obscure.

UPDATE: Local paper The Tide has more:

Prof. Catherine Acholonu-Olumba and Mr Ajay Prabhakar, Country Ambassador and Programmes Co-ordinator respectively for the United Nations (UN) Forum of Arts and Culture, have provided details of their finding in a book co-authored by them.

…The research result was first presented before a global audience at the round table on Inter-cultural dialogue hosted by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of the Black Heritage festival, in Badagry, Lagos, in May 2001.

Subsequently, the research team was hosted by the Black academics and Black communities in many states in the U.S, the statement said.

Among the “key discoveries” made in the course of the research was that the geographical area marked in the monolith joining of Rivers Niger and Benue represented the geometric ” centre of then [sic] Earth”.

Also, Nigeria is exactly at the place identified in the Bible book of Genesis as the centre of Eden, where the Tree of Life was located.

Tabloids Blamed for anti-Coptic Riot; more Violence to Come?

ASSIST links to a website with some background to the recent anti-Coptic riot in Alexandria [sic for typos]:

Mr. Mostafa El Bakry, Chief Editor and CEO of El Osboa Newspaper stated that a play was performed at Saint George and Antonious Coptic Church, that insulted Islam and the Muhamed the profit. He demanded an apology from the church and the Pope.

– Same week, Thousands of CDs were distributed in Cairo colleges and labeled “Ramadan Gift”. The CD contained the Play. In the begining of the play there was a comment; “This play is blessed and approved by Pope Shenouda” …This CD was distributed by either Islamic extremists and/or Security Forces.

– El Sheikh Aly Gomaa from El Azhar and Pope Shenouda confirmed that the play did not insult Muslims.

…A daily news paper called “Al Fager – Dawn“, has confirmed that isalmic fanatic have released a fatwa that killing pope shenouda is Halal “ok by religion”…

But most worrying:

A massacre planed by the Extremists is to take place on Friday 10-28-05

The Fanatic Extremists newspaper claimed that they are going to have a massacre for all Christians, Priests, and Pastors. They started putting signs and marks on some Christians, priests, and pastor’s houses.

Most Christians are considering leaving their homes fearing for their lives and their loved one’s after their houses have being marked.

Some expect that this might happen also on Tuesday 11-1-05

WE CRY OUT FOR HELP … BEFORE ANOTHER RWANDA ETHNIC CLEANSING HAPPENS

Uppity Copts complaining has been a subject of Mustafa al-Bakri and his news weekly Al-Osbou before. Al-Ahram explains in this 1998 report:

Hafez Abu Se’eda, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), has been remanded in custody for fifteen days pending trial on serious charges of harming Egypt’s national security.

Abu Se’eda’s arrest came almost a week after a press campaign was launched against human rights groups which receive foreign funding, especially EOHR…The prosecutor general is investigating charges made by the privately-owned Al-Osbou newspaper that EOHR received a $25,000 cheque from the British Embassy in return for a report it had issued on the alleged persecution of Copts in the southern village of Al-Kosheh.

A Sunday Times report on Al-Kosheh apparently contained some inaccuracies; a report from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders added that “EOHR appears to have been made a scapegoat for Egyptian authorities anger over an article in a foreign newspaper”.

Then in 2004:

The independent weekly newspaper Al- Osbou’ on Monday launched an attack on a conference held in Zurich, Switzerland entitled, “Egypt’s Copts, a minority under siege”. “The extremist Zionist Daniel Pipes headed the participants: a suspect alliance in Zurich between the American right and some members of the Coptic expatriate community,” wrote Al-Osbou’ in the headline of one article.

…In commentary Al-Osbou’ wrote: “The Zurich conference is no different than its predecessors which utilised the Coptic minority as a pressure card and pretext to solicit foreign intervention in Egypt’s affairs. The American right wing is inciting expatriate Copts to raise a furore at a time when [the US] is targeting Syria, the Sudan, occupying Iraq, and massacres increasing in Palestine. The aim is to put Egypt in a defensive position or at least mar domestic moves being undertaken to attain change. They want Egypt weak, easy to extort and submitting to the US and Israeli agenda.”

Well, Pipes is certainly objectionable, although I don’t blame the Copts for seeking out a powerful ally. But of course, the joke is that it’s the likes of al-Bakri that provide much of his ammo (al-Bakri is also good for providing MEMRI fodder).

The US State Department also notes the following about al-Bakri:

During 2004 and 2005, allegations in several countries claimed that the United States was trying to impose a “new American Koran” on Muslims.

These claims are false. A small, private evangelical Christian group in the United States has written a book called The True Furqan, which seeks to convert Muslims to Christianity, but this group has no connection with the U.S. government. Furqan is another term for Koran.

…Mustafa Bakri, editor of Egypt’s sensationalist, anti-U.S. Al-Usbu newspaper, made other false claims in the newspaper’s December 6, 2004 edition:

The first edition of The True Koran was published secretly in the United States and Israel.

The True Koran was drafted with direct Israeli participation and with direct instructions from U.S. President George Bush.

Twelve more books will be published as part of The True Furqan series.

Bakri has a long history of making disinformation claims. Abbas al Janabi, who served as the personal secretary to Saddam’s son Uday from the mid 1980s until 1998, said in 2003 that Bakri had long been on Saddam’s payroll and was “very loyal to Saddam.”…

Al-Ahram, however, blames a different tabloid for the incendiary story about the Coptic DVD:

Last week’s sectarian tension in Alexandria began in much the same way previous Muslim-Christian disputes had: with the publication of a tabloid story. This time, the newspaper in question — Al-Midan — published an article about a church play that defamed Islam. The play — which begins with a poor Christian university student converting to Islam after a group of Muslim men offer him money to do so — was called I was blind but now I can see. The twist in the plot comes when the convert later decides to return to Christianity. The same Muslims then threaten him with violence.

…Sameh Fawzi, the editor of Watani (My Nation), a prominent Coptic newspaper, says that “reading a number of tabloid newspapers will clearly reveal how a sensitive topic like religion is often manipulated to pit Muslims and Christians against each other.” Several newspapers, for instance, have recently been running stories claiming that churches are doing intensive missionary work among university students across the country

…Waleed Orabi, the journalist who wrote the Al-Midan story, said he had obtained a CD of the performance from a source inside the Alexandria church where the play took place. He refused to provide any other details on the matter.

Al-Midan (which should not be confused with a Communist newspaper of the same name based in Sudan) is known for sensationalism. The Jewish Virtual Library gives a nice example:

In an article in the ‘Al-Midan’ newspaper of late March [2001]the writer Abu Bakr deals with the children’s game ‘Pokemon’, claiming that the game cards containing Pokemon figures encourage Western thought, animal worship and the theory of evolution. In an article dealing with the same subject which was published afterwards, the author claimed that the Pokemon figures appearing on bags of Israeli-Jewish produced potato chips prove his claims.

In the same year, allegedly inaccurate reporting of the views of Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi in the newspaper led to a bizarre court case in which an Islamist lawyer tried to force her husband to divorce her.

MichNews Peddles Satanic Panic

satansuperstar

With a tragic murder in California, the peddlers of Satanic panic are back in business. Over to Jim Kouri, vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and wingnut pundit at MichNews.com:

The news coverage of the extraordinarily brutal murder of Pamela Vitale, wife of well-known California criminal defense attorney Daniel Horowitz, seems to have renewed interest in ritualistic crime. The 16-year old suspect is reported to have been involved in some kind of self-styled Satanism including the reading the Anton LeVay’s [sic – should be LaVey, of course. He gets it right later] Satanic Bible and use of occult symbols at the crime scene.

But, in just the first of many leaps of logic to come, Kouri asserts that this “some kind of self-styled Satanism” actually reveals a wider Satanic trend:

In spite of mankind’s advances in the arts and sciences, there remains a large number of people who have not been able to — or refuse to — shake-off the practices of pagan rituals, some of which date back thousands of years.

Unlike the rituals of Christianity, of course…

Included within the broad spectrum of paganism are so-called Satanic cults which are suspect in a number of bizarre crimes throughout the United States:

According to investigative journalist and author Maury Terry, there exists today a network of Satan-worshiping cults with members crisscrossing our nation. Terry, whose research takes him to just about every state of the union, participated in a special regional police conference in Ohio, co-sponsored by the American Federation of Police and the National Association of Chiefs OF Police.

Terry apparently thinks “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz was involved in a wider Satanic plot, but had to change one his books following a libel action. Kouri ploughs on:

The world of the Satanic cultist is filled with ritualistic violence, perverse sexual activity and abuse, Heavy Metal music and the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines (crank, speed, meth, crystal), psylocybin (an hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD), heroin and other others. This is a world which, even in the beginning of the 21st Century,  continues to attract a large number of young people who follow the precepts of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, a volume that has millions of copies in print today.

Millions? James R Lewis of CESNUR writes the following:

One measure of The Satanic Bible’s appeal is that it has continuously been in print since it first appeared in 1970, and has been translated into a number of other languages. I have been unable to obtain recent figures, but in his 1991 book, In Pursuit of Satan, Robert Hicks mentions a sales figure of 618,000 copies (p. 351). There were also a number of illegal foreign language editions. These include a Spanish translation published in Mexico in the 70s, a Danish translation in the 80s, and a Russian translation in the late 90s. Legal editions include Czech and Swedish translations in the mid 90s and a 1999 German edition. The French translation has been completed but not yet printed. Also, the rights for a Greek translation were purchased, but the book does not seem to have appeared.

Not exactly The Satan-Driven Life, then. Lewis adds:

In addition to escaping institutional bounds and taking on a life of its own as the principal source document for a loose, anarchistic Satanist “movement,” The Satanic Bible came to play a role in the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the 1980s and 1990s…Despite the fact that LaVey explicitly rejected unlawful activity-especially blood sacrifice-in The Satanic Bible, the discovery of a copy of this widely-available book at a crime scene was often sufficient evidence for investigators to label the crime Satanic. (We might note that the similar presence of a Christian Bible at a crime scene has never led police to label the crime Christian.

Kouri, perhaps with an eye-out for the lawyers, goes on to note that Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set operates within the law. However, Satanic cults are another matter:

…According to Ed Briggs, crime reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch , Satanic cults seduce teenagers and young adults with sex and drugs and the promise of power over others. Also, involvement in this religion is the ultimate in rebellion against parental control, especially if the parents are religious Christians, Jews, Muslims, or part of any mainstream religious organization — even Religious Satanism which is recognized by the federal government as a legitimate religion deserving of all privileges enjoyed by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. churches and temples.

Apparently Briggs wrote a couple of articles in the late 1980s on the topic. But it’s hardly news – we’ve always known that small groups of teenagers get up to this sort of thing (as in the recent case in Italy, which I blogged on at the time). Kouri then starts going further off the rails:

How many Satanic practitioners are there in the US? 

“The adherents of this violent [quasi-]religion number over 300,000, ” claims Lieutenant Larry Jones of the Boise, ID Police Department. 

No explanation is given for where this figure has come from; Adherents.com provides some alternative statistics, the most sensible sources coming up with around 3,000 to 20,000. But Larry Jones is notoriously unreliable, and the fact that someone of Kouri’s position can take him seriously is very worrying. Witchvox has the lowdown, particularly Jones’s links with fake ex-Satanists turned Christian fundamentalists like Rebecca Brown and Mike Warnke (who are both unaccountably still in business, by the way), among much else.

But it gets worse:

…Although there have been reports of human sacrifices, especially infanticide, these incidents are extremely rare.

Unless they’re not:

Those claiming they are not rare but routine say that the infants used in the monstrous ceremony is one that has been conceived and raised just for the purpose of ritual murder. These police officers — Sandi Gallant among them — say that birth records of these babies do not exist since the children are born using midwife who’s a member of the group or even a physician-member.

This story has been around for years; lack of evidence has been no bar to its perpetuation. 

Kouri then goes on to resurrect Pat Pulling from 1980s obscurity. Pulling is a rather sad figure – her son committed suicide in 1982, which inspired her on a crusade against Dungeons & Dragons:

…Who is drawn to this religion? Who gets involved in demonic activity? Well, a profile was developed by Pat Pulling, the leading expert in this area of psychology. The profile is similar in structure to those developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Science Unit. In fact, the creator of the Criminal Profiling System, Special Agent Robert Ressler, during his interviews with over 100 serial-killers and unusually  violent criminals, found elements of the occult in the psyche of a few of these killers.

“Elements” of the occult in “a few”! Damning indeed. I wonder how the incidence of these “elements” compares with incidences of other forms of religious mania, though? Kouri does not bother to ask.

After a digression into a survery of Santeria and voodoo, Kouri concludes with a discussion of the difficulties of investigating Satanic crime (i.e. the lack of any evidence):

…Investigators arriving at the crime scene of a homicide or suicide should remain open-minded with regard to possible ritualism or Satanic connections to the crime.

Even if that means being so open-minded the brains falling out.

(Tipped from The Pagan Prattle and Bulldada Newsblog)

Going Underground with Pilot Baba

pilot-baba

While increasing numbers of Christians see recent hurricanes, earthquakes and wars as signs of the inevitable end times, other religious traditions have a different tack on what needs to be done. WebIndia123 reports from Madhya Pradesh:

A Japanese god woman buried herself alive underground in “Samadhi”, a state of complete meditation in Hinduism, as she prayed on Thursday for world peace and bringing back natural order to earth in times of natural disasters and tragedies affecting the world.

Yogmata Japaki, a Buddhist by birth, was on a strict fast for the past two days, a pre-requisition for attaining “Samadhi”, as she climbed into the 15-feet-deep earthen pit in front of a massive crowd of devotees in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, who prayed and sang in her honour.

Japaki would stay in the underground samadhi for 72 hours without food or water.

The report notes her many supporters, including “Pilot Baba” and Russian “holy man” Henry Giri. It also adds:

It is not the first time that a Japanese god woman is undertaking such an ordeal. During the holy Hindu festival of Maha-Kumbh in Allahabad in 2001 when the largest gathering of mankind at a single place took place, a similar ritual was successfully performed by another Japanese yogi Keiko Aikawa.

Aikawa is also known as Yogmata Kaila Giri, and she runs an ashram in Tokyo; I have been unable to track down whatever Yogmata Japaki’s “secular” name may be. Both women, however, are followers of the aforementioned Pilot Baba, and these burials are a regular feature at the yearly Kumbha Mela festival (click here for a pic of Keiko Aikawa from 1992; page also contains some nudity). The one in 2001 received media attention:

Thousands thronged Tuesday to the camp of an Air Force pilot-turned-ascetic, Mahayogi Pilot Baba, when a Japanese disciple of his emerged out of a “living grave” after 72 hours underground.

Renamed by him as “Yogmata Kaila Giri Ma,” the middle-aged Japanese woman, Keiko Aikawa, had been “buried” eight feet underground on January 20.

…It took some time before “Pilot Baba” could persuade the crowds to maintain order. The “Yogmata” then blessed the enthusiastic crowd, that included several Japanese men and women.

Commencing with a recital of Hindu ritualistic chant of “Om”, followed by the Indian greeting of “namaste”, she spoke in broken English and delivered a message of peace and happiness to the devotees.

Pilot Baba himself got a similar notice on CNN back in 1996:

Pilot Baba, Indian air force officer-turned-yogi, climbed out of a damp hole in the ground Thursday to the cheers of some 10,000 admirers.

…”I had to minimize my breathing and survive without anything. No eating or drinking,” the 57-year-old yoga adept said after his return to the surface.

“Breath is the bridge between the soul and the body. You have to go beyond the mind. The very first thing is to remove the mind.”

Pilot Baba (also known as Kapil Adwait) explains his mission on his website:

His adventures, his teachings have always been different, true to life, more close to life, enabling a common man to know its strength and rise above the mundane living, though living in it. He is on a mission of “WORLD PEACE CAMPAIGN” and has been travelling the world over, teaching and making people experience the art of meditation, the art of Samadhi or the art of Realisation. Its true meaning and sanctity.

The Deccan Herald has further details:

He believes that he was saved from the jaws of death, when he was flying the MIG in the Ladakh region, by the divine intervention of Goraknath Hari Baba.

(I assume this is Goraksanath, one of the five ancient gurus of the Nath cult, which venerates Shiva)

Soon after this incident, Pilot Baba, an officer with the Indian Air Force resigned from the IAF and took sanyas in 1974. He devoted his time and knowledge to mastering the teachings of Goraknath Hari Baba.

…In his new avatar, Baba has undertaken numerous samadhis for world peace in water, in air tight containers and in glass chambers. He believes that world peace is possible only through meditation, collective thought and by praying together. “Success can be achieved through meditation and the power of collective thought,” said Baba.

…Baba has established several Ashrams in Nainital, Haridwar, Jaipur, Tokyo, Bhopal and Guna. He has also worked with Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi for world peace.

He is also president of the Mahayog Foundation, as the website for that organisation explains:

Mahayogi Pilot Baba is Mahamandaleshwar [i.e. sect leader] of the Juna Akhara [a monastic “order”] and a Himalayan Master from a lineage which traces its ancestry to Kripacharya of the Mahabharata.

He has taken jal (underwater) samadhi, bhumigat (underground) samadhi and samadhi in air-tight containers with the sankalpa of world peace and to enliven consciousness. Several of his disciples have also taken bhugarbha or sthal samadhi, at his instance, to promote peace and goodwill.

New Age magazine Enlightenment concentrates more on his supposed miraculous abilities:

…he buries himself underground, encases himself in an airtight glass box, or submerges himself under water-for days or even weeks at a time. Employing an ancient yogic technique that could best be described as a sort of human hibernation-plus, Pilot Baba is purported to be able to voluntarily shut down all bodily functions to the point that he is clinically dead, only to return to life at a pre-specified date and time-a feat that has withstood the scrutiny of at least some Western scientists.

He also claims various miraculous abilities, such as being able to divert a river and a few Jesus-like exploits, such as walking on water and dissipating storm clouds. However, those of a sceptical disposition might note certain features of the following:

It was the middle of last April in the central Indian town of Dewas, and Pilot Baba had again entered into an airtight glass case where he was to remain motionless for four days. In order to prevent the 110-degree desert heat from causing the case to explode, it had been surrounded by curtains which would be drawn back for brief darshan [viewing] periods several times each morning and evening. On the third evening, everything seemed to be proceeding as usual. But at 8pm, when the curtains were drawn open for the third time that night, “a quick hush went over the crowd.” As filmmaker Andre Vaillancourt, who was there to document the event, describes it, “I squinted . . . in order to catch a glimpse of Baba. As the words [of the crowd] came to my ears, the picture came into focus: Baba is gone! Vanished! Dematerialized! Only his orange dhoti [robe] lay on the spot where he sat.”

Particularly unimpressed is the Indian Rationalist Association, whose president, B. Premanand, relates the following:

On October 20th, 1980, Pilot Baba held a religious tamasha of underground samadhi by Khareshwari Baba for 10 days, along with a conference on Vedanta and Ramayana to be followed by a “Panchkundi” Gayatri mahayajna. Lakhs of rupees were collected by Pilot Baba for this. Khareshwari Baba was lowered into a pit of 10 feet deep and 3.5 feet square which could contain only 122.5 cubic feet of air, less the swami’s body. On the 10th day, when the pit was opened, the body of the baba had decomposed as he had died of dehydration, as the maximum time he could have survived in the pit was less than 24 hours unless Pilot Baba had arranged fresh air supply by some method into the pit.

He goes on to write a J’accuse to the yogi:

The death of Khareshwari Baba was a brutal murder by you with the connivance of the government officials and the organisers of your show.

A later report from Rationalist International adds another accusation:

In 1992, Sanal Edamaruku exposed the godman Pilot Baba who claimed that he survived in meditation under water for five days without breathing. Pilot Baba’s under-water feat attracted national and international attention. He constructed a huge swimming pool in a Delhi public park, climbed down in front of a crowd of 4000, ordered water to be pumped in and stayed there underwater for four days. That was at least the claim.

But Edamaruku and his assistants exposed him. They found out that there was a special secret pipeline connection. Though water was pumped in, the tarpaulin-covered pool did not get wet inside, and the Baba had a comfortable time on its dry ground. Four years later, in 1996, he tried it again. This time he claimed to stay for four days buried under the earth. Edamaruku exposed him again in front of television cameras. This time he was sitting comfortably in an underground dug-up room.

We might also question some his “global peace and goodwill” platitudes, if this 2004 account is accurate:

Akharas [Hindu monastic orders] are low profile but some of its leaders are involved in the current nationalist struggle of the ruling BJP. Pilot Baba, an ex air-force pilot who had a divine vision in mid-air during a flight, is a vocal opponent of any compromise in the controversial Ayodhya impasse that has plagued northern India for years. In this small town in Uttar Pradesh, the birthplace of Rama, a fifteenth century mosque was torn down in 1992 by an armed mob of Hindu fundamentalists, connected with the ruling party.

However, an interview in the Hindustan Times (which notes his “makeshift tented palace, which boasts of all comforts of a millionaire’s home”) is rather more conciliatory:

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are good organisations with extremely good manpower for promoting Hindu Dharma, but their agenda against other religions and communities is dangerous for mankind…If the political will had been there, the Ram temple could have been built within 24 hours. The heads of the two warring communities should sit together and sort out all their differences. All political parties want to keep the issue alive, so that they can use it to come back to power’”.

Pilot Baba can also take credit as a bit of a feminist, as this report notes:

The Simhastha Kumbh 2004 has thrown up unexpected surprises.

Perhaps for the first time in Kumbh’s history, female sadhvis [i.e. female ascetics] are breaking the glass ceiling and are coming to their own.

…”Things are changing, but some people refused to let sadhvis rise on grounds of morality,” said Pilot Baba, sadhu.

Nonetheless, the rise in empowerment of women in the secular aspects of life was bound to be reflected in the religious side.

No doubt Pilot Baba’s Japanese follower will emerge from her pit unscathed, as usual. What will, one suspects, be harder to establish is whether she has really done anything to “bring back natural order” to the earth…

(Tipped from The Revealer)

Messiah Countdown in Israel

Latest news from the Israeli religious right, via Arutz Sheva:

On Thursday night, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri said, “Jews must come to the land of Israel to receive our righteous Mashiach (Messiah), who has begun his influence and will reveal himself in the future.”

…During the afternoon Mincha prayer on Yom Kippur, the Kabbalist scholar surprised his students and fellow worshippers with secrets relating to the coming of the Mashiach…Only after some 45 minutes, the Rabbi raised his head and looked around the room at the students and worshippers who were gathered at his Nachalat Yitzhak Yeshiva, in the Bucharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. With a broad smile on his face familiar to his students when he has a revelation, he declared, “With the help of G-d, the soul of the Mashiach [i.e. “Messiah”] has attached itself to a person in Israel”.

Kaduri is 104 years old, and his esoteric mysticism is in no way otherworldly: back in 1996 he was part of the election campaign for the religious Shas party, blessing magical amulets for that purpose; he later split with Shas to create Ahavat Yisrael. But he has wider appeal: the Likud foreign minister Silvan Shalom recently presented Prince Charles with one of the Rabbi’s amulets as a wedding present. Kaduri is also a supporter of the unofficial “Sanhedrin” which was recently established by Israeli rightists, and he shares their detestation of democracy, as a quote in this document shows:

“The revolution has begun”, exclaimed the overwhelmed hundred-year-old kabbalistic rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri. “We want a monarchic regime in place of the current fascist regime which only pretends to be democratic. And we want the Temple of Jerusalem”.

Kaduri has also stated that Sharon will be the final prime minister.

(Some may be shocked by the use of the word “fascist”, but in fact rightist Israelis throw Nazi epithets around quite casually. While I was in Jerusalem in 1993-4, everywhere I looked there were posters with Yitzhak Rabin’s head superimposed on a Nazi uniform).

The Arutz Sheva report also gives Kaduri’s timetable for the Messiah’s appearance, based on his interpretations of the writings of a mystic known as the Vilna Gaon:

On September 24, 2001, Channel One Israel TV broadcast an item on what Torah and other mystics were saying in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. Speaking from the room adjacent to where Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri receives visitors, Arutz Sheva Hebrew radio showhost Yehoshua Meiri, a close confident of the Kabbalist, explained to the cameras Rabbi Kaduri’s understanding of the events based on the calculations of the Vilna Gaon: “On Hashanah Rabba, the actual war of Gog and Magog will commence and will last for some seven years,” said Meiri. [ Click here to view the Channel One clip in Hebrew and Rabbi Kaduri’s prediction communicated by Meiri at the 1:40 minute mark.]

Precise to the minute, 13 days later on October 7th as the sun was setting and the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabba was ushered in, US and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and Al-Qaida.

So, apparently, while the person who will be the Messiah is around at this moment, he will not actually become the Messiah until two more years have passed. But who will the “Messiah” be? Most likely, Kaduri is backing Rabbi Yosef Dayan, who claims to be the legitimate King of Israel, and who recently uttered a death curse against Sharon. But if the Messiah must be Sharon’s successor, perhaps Kaduri (pictured here) has a more likely candidate in mind…?

kaduri-netanyahu

Evangelical TV in Mongolia Preaches “Faith and Freedom”

Interesting news from ASSIST about the return of an evangelical television station in Mongolia:

For nearly ten years Eagle TV operated as the sole voice of independent journalism on television in Mongolia, airing Christian programming and generating more than 10,000 contacts for evangelism.

Now the new Eagle Broadcasting Company begins broadcasting on terrestrial Channel 8 in Mongolia’s capital city on Saturday, October 22, 2005.

The old Eagle closed down in 2003 following a dispute between American and Mongolian partners. An AP report at the time gave some additional information, including an interview with general director Tom Terry. The article is now fairly obscure, so I’ll quote at length:

“Eagle TV was founded for two purposes. One was to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and the other reason was for the advancement of freedom and democracy,” Terry said.

Eagle TV went on the air in 1995. Over the years, its programming included evangelists, biblical cartoons, Christian rock videos and testimonies by newly converted Mongolians.

…Eagle TV grew out of an unlikely alliance in 1992 between born-again Christians from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Mongolia’s newly democratic government.

…Mongolian leaders wanted to instill Western-style broadcasting in this former Soviet ally. The country had only one television station — the state broadcaster linked to the formerly communist Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party.

With many of Mongolia’s 2.4 million people living in poverty, no station stood to make a profit. But the Americans agreed to pay for Eagle TV, on condition that it show evangelical programs along with its other fare.

…Eagle’s coverage included a six-part series in 2000 titled “Swindle of the Century” that looked at claims of corruption at the state-owned Erdenet copper mine, Mongolia’s biggest business. Much of the criticism in the report was aimed at the former ruling party.

Following the broadcast, an Eagle TV editor was beaten by unknown attackers. Burglars stole documents used in the broadcast from the home of another employee.

…Steve Posey, president of the American group that owned half of Eagle TV, said in an e-mail from Sioux Falls that 10,000 viewers have called the station over the past three years to ask religious questions. He said about 2,500 later converted to Christianity.

As the Gulf War got underway, ASSIST reported that:

According to Terry, Eagle’s war coverage began within minutes of the formal outbreak of war. He said that the station cut into CNN news broadcasts hourly with local updates from Arab press agencies, interviews with Mongolian news makers like the former prime minister and live on air telephone calls with people expressing their opinions on the hostilities.

…According to Terry, the country’s government controlled media have commented that people should not be allowed to give their opinions.

Lack of independent television is a continuing problem in Mongolia  – just last summer opposition democrats occupied the state television building in protest against their lack of access to the airwaves during an election.

The relaunched channel is completely owned by a missionary organisation called the AMONG Foundation (AMONG is short for “America Mongolian”), which is based in South Dakota. Both Terry and AMONG’s president, Steve Posey, also work for Campus Crusade for Christ. The AMONG website is not as informative as one might hope – there’s no statement of faith or any schedule, and I’d be interested to see which evangelists and programs are being beamed across Mongolia. However, some extra information is available from Terry’s blog, where he argues for missionaries to support democratisation – a position of “Faith and Freedom”, as he puts it in the title of a recent book. His website includes an extract:

How is it that many missionaries and missions organizations, empowered and supported for their work by American capitalism and American freedoms, must distance themselves from the provision that makes much of their work possible, while many of the countries they reach are moving toward the political ideologies of freedom and democracy? Did the Apostle Paul distance himself from his Roman citizenship when he was on mission, or did he take advantage of it? (Acts 22:25-29, 25:10-12) Didn’t the original eleven Apostles also serve as an example when they refused to obey Israeli [sic] limitations on their religious speech? (Acts 4:18-20, 5:27-29)

My experience at Eagle Television is unique. For Eagle’s American shareholder, AMONG Foundation, faith in Jesus Christ is paramount, but Faith and Freedom are closely related. I am not referring to the specific policies of the American government, which changes leadership every four years, but to the foundational principles that make the American system possible. From my perspective, freedom of speech, press, and religion-as espoused in the First Amendment, according to the original understanding of the Founding Fathers—are so closely tied to biblical concepts; it is hard to divorce them. But not all Christians or missionaries agree, for practical as well as philosophical reasons…postmodernism, cultural correctness and good intentions have pushed many missionaries to do that which is impossible– divorce their political ideals from the religious concepts and liberties that molded them.

UPDATE: Tom Terry has kindly left a comment. As he includes some extra information, I’ll repeat what he says below:

I enjoyed reading your article about Eagle TV and AMONG Foundation. Even in this short piece you have demonstrated what most Mongolian journalists lack. It doesn’t take much to do even a little research to find background information about a subject and produce a well-rounded story. Hats off. Regarding the AMONG web site: We haven’t updated it in some time, but are looking at creating a an AMONG blog. Expect more about that in the coming weeks. For now the most updated information online about Eagle TV is my web site: www.thomasterry.com.

In your piece you mentioned it would be interesting to know what preachers we are airing. Quick answer: None. Our Christian programming features a monthly run of a mini-series or movie event about the life of a Biblical Character. Our focus is simply to find creative ways to present the historicity of Christianity and its principle characters in the Bible. No “name it and claim it,” or other such questionable materials. We do produce a short 30-minute documentary each month based upon the movie segments that ties the life of each biblical character into the New Testament history of Jesus Christ. We try to have all of our productions have as much of a Mongolian look and feel as possible. In fact, Eagle TV has more Mongolian produced programming than every other station in Mongolia combined – and we’re completely American owned. That’s not something you find in foreign media work very often. God bless, Tom Terry Managing Director Eagle Broadcasting Company Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

God Hates Bacon

When I saw this, I thought for a couple of minutes that it might be one of the “Hebraic Roots” people in action (note the Jesus Star of David). However, it’s actually from a Fred Phelps parody site.

god-hates-bacon

(Pic via Murmurings of a Mind Malcontent)

The Israelites of Ohio

The Cleveland Jewish News has a piece on non-Jews who are adopting a Jewish identity, which has been a recent topic of this blog. Reporter Stephanie Graber names the phenomenon as the “Hebraic Roots” movement. The trend goes further than the Noachide movement, in which non-Jews keep deference to the “laws of Noah” and generally support Israel (I’ve fixed some typos in original):

These gentiles in Jewish clothing actually claim to be the “true Israelites” and direct, biological descendants of the lost tribe of Ephraim. Of course there are no DNA or blood tests to confirm this unsubstantiated claim.

Angus Wootten, one of the movement’s grandaddies, explains in his book Restoring Israel’s Kingdom how someone can find out if he or she is a biological member of the tribe of Ephraim: You simply “have a ‘conviction,’ a knowing that we know.”

…From their websites and links, it would appear there are about 30 Ephraim-style groups in Ohio alone, although it’s hard to get an exact count because they use so many names: Ephraimites, Hebraic Roots Christians, Lost Tribes, Northern Kingdom, Israelites, House of Israel, Messianic Christians, and House of Joseph.

…Tired of being “second-class citizens,” these self-proclaimed “Ephraimites” demand that Jews “recognize” them as “Israelites” and that would include rights to the Middle East real estate.

Well, there is a precedent in the case of the Black Hebrews, African-Americans who made the same claim some years ago (our friend Prophet Yahweh is to some extent related to that movement); in 2003 the group was given permanent residence status in Israel, with a view to citizenship. There’s also the recent case of the Mizo, a tribe of Indian animists that converted to Christianity in the 1890s; they also developed a Jewish identity, becoming the “Bnei Menashe”, and have now been officially declared to be a “Lost Tribe” by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. If not them, why not American Protestants? Perhaps part of the problem is that the “Hebraic Roots” movement is a bit too pushy:

In 1948, “…instead of naming this Jewish state ‘Judah’…they named it Israel,” Wooten writes.”“Now, in one fell swoop, the Jews grabbed the title back.” Wootten is appalled that these Jews had the chutzpah to name their country “Israel” when those of his “tribe” knew it was partially theirs!

Another issue is that these “Ephraimites” have a place for Jesus in their mythology, while the Mizo went through a Judaizing process before entering Israel. Graber includes an interview with Eddie Chumney, who tells us that Jesus’ Gospel was really about uniting the Israelites (Christians) with Judah, through Jewish law; this message was obscured by the Catholic Church. As I wrote on this blog last month, Jesus was also the stumbling block between one such “Hebraic Roots Movement” and Rabbi Michael Bar-Ron, who liaises with Noachides on behalf of the “Sanhedrin” recently set up by members of the Israeli far-right.

Garber also interviews a couple of Rabbis, who are not impressed with the movement’s practices, such as adopting the term “rabbi” for their leaders:

If someone were to call him or herself an attorney or physician and attempt to practice as such, that individual would be thrown in jail, says Rabbi [Tovia] Singer. Using the title “rabbi” won’t get someone thrown in jail, but it is consumer fraud, he adds.

Singer is a Jewish “counter-missionary”, who has had various clashes with Christian ministers and Messianic Jews. One of his main opponents, naturally, is Jews for Jesus; however, Jews for Jesus is not very happy with these “Ephramites” either, and has a page linking to various critiques of the movement. The British-Israelite element  particularly sets off alarm bells (although, weirdly, Bar-Ron is impressed with the idea, and it is promulgated by a Jew named Yair Davidy). Jews for Jesus quotes a report from the International Messianic Jewish Alliance:

Both groups (Anglo-Israelites and Ephraimites) build their theories on the mythic story of the ten “lost tribes” of the northern kingdom. Both groups put great store by suspect and contrived etymologies of English words based on Hebrew. Both groups claim pre-eminent, “first-born” status as purported heirs of Ephraim. Both share an innate hostility toward Roman Catholicism and Judaism. Both proclaim that the teaching they propound is a “mystery” revealed only through their teachers. Both argue that the lost tribes migrated to areas where they eventually became known as Saxons. Both groups make mention of the nobility of anglo-Saxons as evidence for their biblical, Israelite heritage.

…The movement is growing to the point that it now has some areas of overlap with the Christian Zionist movement as well as the Messianic Jewish movement. As a result of this, there are several spokespersons in both these groups who advance this teaching while maintaining primary affiliation either as Christian Zionists or as Messianic Jews.

Hostility to Judaism is also noted by Graber (another big difference with the Noachides):

[Wooten] seems to have particular disdain for the Orthodox, labeling them, among other things, as mean-spirited rock-throwers.

According to anti-cult pundit Rick Ross, these groups are “mushrooming”.

(Tipped from Cult News Network)

Ethiopia Gets Rapture Ready

Premillennialist founds 1,000 Churches

Keeping with the subject of missionaries, news from Crosswalk:

Dr. Charles Blair and the Blair Foundation, Denver, Colorado, announced August 31, 2005 the successful completion of a two-year project to secure sponsors to fund the planting of 1,000 evangelical churches in the previously unreached region of Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia, bordering the Sudan. The project began in response to a plea from the region’s born-again president, Yaregal Aysheshim, and officially launched September 1, 2003, at which time there were only seven churches in the entire region.

…Land for construction is granted by President Aysheshim as soon as a village congregation reaches 25 adult members. Typically, each Ethiopian missionary establishes sister churches in at least two neighboring villages, making possible the complete evangelization of all 3,000 villages and the estimated one-million+ populace of the Benishangul-Gumuz region in the next two years.

Must be nice to be the president of a region where you can just hand out government land to any religious group you happen to sympathize with…

The website of the Charles E Blair Foundation gives some details about the mission and the man:

Founded in 1967, the Blair Foundation remains committed to expanding, worldwide, the teaching ministry of Dr. Charles Blair by providing on-site leadership and discipleship training, and Bible resource materials.

And what would that teaching ministry be?

He is the best-selling author of When the Journey Seems Too Great; Lose the Weight of the World; and The Man Who Could Do No Wrong – required reading at several leading Christian colleges and seminaries. In 1990, he served on an editorial committee for Thomas Nelson Publishers, providing the commentary for the book of Job in The Spirit-Filled Life Bible…

He serves on several international missions boards; and is an active member of the Pre-Trib Rapture Study Group, a group of esteemed Bible scholars devoted to instructing, encouraging and equipping the Endtime Body of Christ [actually, this should be Tim LaHaye’s Pre-Trib Research Center – RB].

Apocalypticism and Christian Zionism are central to Blair’s teaching, and he is the author of a DVD set entitled March of Prophecy:

The March of Prophecy is an unforgettable, fast-paced expedition through time.  Armed with personal full-color charts of their own, your congregation – and the many visitors they bring – will travel through 6,000 years of human history – “His-Story” – God systematically making and keeping His promises to man.  It’s God’s plan through the ages – graphically displayed – larger than life!

…We’ll watch the great scroll of Revelation unfurl, unleashing Tribulation wrath, Armageddon, the Millennium, the Final Judgment of all mankind, and Eternity Future – mysterious Apocalyptic events revealed as God – ordained closures to previous chapters of human history!

Back in 1967 Blair also authored a Prophecy Chart, which features a “great period of world-wide evangelism” following the creation of the State of Israel (next comes the “First Resurrection” of the dead into heaven, followed by the inevitable “Antichrist makes peace treaty with Israel.”). His “21 Signs of Christ’s Return” can be seen here.

Meanwhile, web-based information about Benishangul-Gumuz is somewhat thin on the ground, but there are these statistics from 1996:

The religious composition of the population is:

Muslim 44.1%

Orthodox Christians 34.8%

Traditional religions13.1%

Protestants 5.9%

No information was available in the census data on the remaining 2.1 percent.

Yaregal Aysheshim (var. “Yaregal Aysheshum”) was the governor of Benishangul from 1995 until last month. Details are scarce, but he seems to have had a commitment to development, education, and democracy (although he was involved in the brief jailing of a journalist who refused to reveal his sources back in 2001).

In 2003, Charisma provided some more background information to Blair’s involvement:

The foundation for the Ethiopian partnership was laid in 1989 when Calvary Temple in Denver opened its door to a congregation of Ethiopian believers who had come to the United States to escape persecution by the communist regime in their homeland.

When the socialist government of the country fell in 1991, Calvary Temple pastor Charles Blair was invited to Ethiopia to help local church leaders make the transition from underground cell groups to thriving, visible congregations.

[Dr Howard] Foltz [of Accelerating International Mission Strategies (AIMS)] accompanied Blair in 1996, helping to train Ethiopian church leaders, pastors and missionaries. Today the ongoing partnership continues to yield a harvest of new believers and church plants.

According to Pamella Foster, AIMS director of operations, the evangelical church in Ethiopia faces many challenges. In addition to persecution from Muslims, Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church leaders have joined forces with the Islamic movement to persecute evangelical Christians. “Leaders from the evangelical church in Ethiopia believe they alone stand between their government and a total Islamic takeover,” Foster reported.

In spite of these obstacles, more than 8,000 Muslims in one region alone have come to Christ in an 11-month period. “A Muslim man who converts to Christianity will have his wife taken from him and given to another Muslim man,” Foster said. “In addition, he may be disinherited and even stoned.”

The report also noted that Blair was working in conjunction with the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia. Christianity Today takes the story further:

Talargie Yeshidenberb was the national representative of the Blair Foundation in Ethiopia. Two years ago, Yeshidenberb, a veterinarian, looked up from his desk in the capital city, Addis Ababa. In the doorway was Yaregal Aysheshim, president of the Benishangul-Gumuz province and one of the few Christians in government.

Blair said Aysheshim was impressed by the transforming power of Christianity, and so “challenged us to help the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia begin 1,000 churches in that many villages in his province, before his current term of office ends this September.”

And Benishangul-Gumuz is just the beginning – Blair hopes to see 14,000 churches across the country.

However, there is one aspect to Blair that is only lightly touched on. Charisma also reported in February that:

In the 1970s, he found himself the subject of newspaper headlines after he unwittingly sold unsecured securities in an effort to raise funds for a retirement center. He was fined and put on probation, and the church went on to repay the investors.

Christianity Today adds:

In August of 1976, a jury found the Reverend Charles Blair, pastor of the 6,000-member Calvary Temple in Denver, Colorado, guilty of seventeen counts of fraud and illegal sale of securities. Blair had raised $14 million from about 3,400 investors to finance the church’s ill-fated geriatric center.

…From all reports, Charles Blair is a man of integrity, a conclusion reinforced by his commitment to repay every investor. No evidence suggests he, or his family, benefited in any way from the illegal sale of securities. Though Blair knowingly allowed financially troubled investors to invest in the Life Center, nothing suggests he intended to defraud them.

All of which makes this scenario more troubling: this is not the story of an evil man reaping the wages of sin but the tragic account of a good man whose vision exceeded his judgment.

However, Alan Prendergast was rather less indulgent in the Denver Westword in 1997:

…True, Blair has made attempts to help out some investors, liquidating personal assets in the process. But he’s also helped himself to funds that were supposed to repay folks impoverished by his huckstering, thereby compounding his original sin. And he has never publicly acknowledged the degree of his guilt in the affair, preferring to speak vaguely of past “mistakes” and failure to properly supervise his underlings. As a group of Christian mediators put it more than a decade ago, “His public response to the problem has been to trivialize his own fault in it, which is really a form of denial.”

…1983: Claiming that Blair has a moral obligation to help the most destitute victims of his failed dream, several Life Center investors seek the help of the Christian Conciliation Service of Denver, an evangelical dispute-resolution group. Blair tells the CCS panel that he has donated “about $100,000” to investors and can’t afford to give more; he also insists he was guilty only of a “technical” violation of failing to offer a proper prospectus. After a thorough examination of the evidence, the panel disagrees, finding that Blair had engaged in “a pattern of dealing unfairly with other people’s money.” The group urges Blair to make restitution to his victims and to publicly confess his responsibility for the disaster. Blair does neither.

Two years later, Prendergast followed the story up with an account of Joel Levitt, a Calvary Temple ex-member who believed that Blair had broken his promises to pay back a remaining $1 million or more:

“I showed him a letter he signed in 1991,” Levitt says, “promising that he was going to work as hard as he could to repay them. He told me, ‘I didn’t mean to pay back the people who sued. Why would I do that?’ He said that these people were hidden enemies of the church and that they should be my enemies, too. He said that all distressed investors who didn’t sue were repaid, with a few exceptions, and that’s an absolute lie.

“I confronted him, probably like no one confronted him. He got up and prayed. I told him he had to make restitution, and he said something like, ‘Oh, I’d give a couple of bucks.'”

In 2000, the unhappy affair was reported in the Denver Business Journal, and the outstanding figure was given as $1.8 million. Levitt had been expelled from the church, and so he could no longer legally demand access to church records. In 2001 he lost an appeal against this, but the appeal decision also noted that (emphasis added):

The Church, a Colorado nonprofit corporation, has a complex financial history closely linked to the activities of its former pastor, Charles E Blair. A series of fundraising campaigns and financial failures in the 1970’s and 1980’s resulted in multiple lawsuits and extensive debt. The 1986 Second Mile Campaign, intended to pay off the remainder of the Church’s unpaid creditors, resulted in further class action litigation. In 1991, that lawsuit was settled by agreement of the majority of the class members, obligating the Church to pay a $700,000 settlement. Notwithstanding this settlement, the original debt to unpaid creditors was never paid in full. In March 1999, the congregation voted not to attempt to repay any remaining unpaid creditors.

Well, why would they, when the church has far more important work to do in Ethiopia? And who needs savings anyway, when the Rapture is just around the corner?

Chavez to Expel New Tribes Mission

From the BBC:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he is about to expel a US missionary group, New Tribes Mission.

The leftist leader said the group were “imperialists” and that he felt “ashamed” at their presence in indigenous areas of Venezuela.

He accused the Florida-based group of making unauthorised flights and setting up luxurious camps amid poverty.

…New Tribes, he said, flew in and out of the country without proper permission from the authorities.

New Tribes Mission (NTM) was founded in 1942. According to its website:

New Tribes Mission continues to trust God, and God continues to be glorified. Today more than 3,000 missionaries serve throughout the world, and training programs in more than a dozen countries prepare missionaries for service among the thousands of tribes who have yet to hear.

It is currently planting “tribal churches” in 18 countries. It has been a source of controversy in Venezuela for many years, although the group can probably thank Pat Robertson’s recent attacks on Chavez for its expulsion. Nikolas Kozloff of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted last month:

Though New Tribes Mission did not put out an official statement about the Robertson controversy, [Resource Director David Zelenak] says Robertson‘s strong words “did not help us in Venezuela.” Indeed, Robertson‘s offensive hardly stands to benefit New Tribes, which has fallen under attack in the past and presents a vulnerable target.

Kozloff’s article includes a lengthy and polemical history of NTM’s activities in the country. NTM arrived in 1946, and received official recognition from a military government in 1954. As the group progressed, it gained

…a staff of more than 150 including missionaries, linguists, pilots, engineers, technicians and others. It also had its own communication network. By 1980, God’s soldiers had 2 Bible institutes, 6 basic training camps, a linguistic institute, a radio station, a medical center, and a housing complex for retired missionaries. Even more impressive, New Tribes built 29 air strips from which their light aircraft fleet operated. The airstrips and settlements all fell under their exclusive control. According to one investigator, “not even the armed forces can easily use those airports. In fact, the runways are constructed for specially equipped planes that can land on extra short runways.”

Claims followed that the NTM was politicising the Indians and creating a “state within a state”; complaints from Indians about the undermining of their traditions also received wide attention:

For some prominent government figures, the issue of New Tribes and the abuse of indigenous peoples had become a matter of national pride. Simon Alberto Consalvi, the former Venezuelan chancellor, remarked that “The accusations about what is happening in Amazonas and some other Venezuelan regions…constitute a recurring theme. This is not a superficial matter…It’s not a secret to anyone that light aircraft go and come without oversight. Some time ago I accompanied the Mexican chancellor to a beautiful place in the Venezuelan Guayana. I was greatly surprised (certainly not very agreeably), when a Venezuelan Indian began to speak in English as if we were a group of tourists. The Indian was surrounded by Bibles…I had the impression that I was in some place in California, where they invent religions and cults in bulk.”

NTM was also accused of espionage, in conjunction with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a major Bible translation outfit); the group was actually expelled from Colombia for allegedly helping transnational companies find strategic deposits. The controversy continued in 1980s:

The story of New Tribes Mission refused to die. In August 1981, Jose Vicente Rangel, then a deputy in Congress, requested that the investigation into New Tribes be reopened…He personally wrote the introduction to a book attacking New Tribes Mission, remarking on that occasion, “What this is fundamentally about is a security problem and national defense. It’s about the abandonment of immense frontier territory.” Rangel went on to praise those who had campaigned against New Tribes, which, in his opinion, had set up a colonial enclave in the country.

Rangel is currently Venezuela’s vice president.

UPDATE: NTM responds to the charges. Agape Press reports:

…We’re a nondenominational, evangelical Protestant mission,” Zelenak asserts, “and our focus there [in Venezuela] is to work in areas of literacy training, Bible translation, and church planting. We also do community development. We have no connection whatsoever with any political organizations.”

Plus:

Meanwhile, some Venezuelan groups are voicing support for NTM and denouncing President Hugo Chavez’s order to expel the missionaries. According to AP, Jose Kayupare of the Puinare tribe rejects Chavez’s claim that New Tribes Mission is part of an “imperialist infiltration” that exploits native communities.

Kayupare told the press “the majority of indigenous people” in Venezuela’s jungles “don’t support” and “are not going to accept under any circumstances” Chavez’s ordered expulsion. Kayupare says New Tribes has often helped Indian communities ravaged by malaria and other diseases, airlifting the sick to medical care after the government had abandoned them.