March 01

 

March 26, 2001

Dear Friend,

Today I arrive in Almaty, Kazakhstan to speak at a conference organized by the Protestant community to educate and strengthen relationships with government officials, religious leaders, and others in positions of leadership. We are very concerned about the turn of events in several former Soviet republics as well as other former communist countries. On this trip, I will be meeting Advocates' Convocation alumni in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Finland in addition to national leaders in Sweden and Estonia. A synopsis of my plans for each country is mentioned in the enclosed First Quarter Report. It shares the impact our 195 Convocation alumni are having in over 30 nations and the results of my recent trip to Albania, Bulgaria, Austria, Portugal, Spain, and Greece.

Other members of our staff are traveling this month, too. In Scotland, Vice President Wally Cheney will address a group of Christian lawyers organized by a 2000 Convocation alumnus, Murray. In London, Wally will participate in the planning session for our European regional conference to be held in September. In France, Wally and Liaison to the UN Slavi Pachovski will visit our Convocation alumni and colleagues at the European Center for Law and Justice.

Staff Counsel Johanna Blom leaves today for Geneva to join Senior Editor Mark Albrecht, Board Member Johan Candelin, and Slavi Pachovski at the UN Commission on Human Rights. They will attend the sessions on religious freedom and present The Geneva Report 2001: A Perspective on Global Religious Freedom: Challenges Facing the Christian Community, which we prepared in cooperation with the World Evangelical Fellowship Religious Liberty Commission. If you would like a copy of this 25-page report, just ask. We also have available by request outlines of talks I have given - one in Albania and one in Kazakhstan - that will give you a feel of our "customized" approach to helping countries address religious freedom issues.

Several colleagues have proposed my name to President Bush for one of the three commissioner appointments that he can make to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Their Executive Director, Steve McFarland, worked for me when I directed the Christian Legal Society and was one of the first board members at Advocates. I believe that I can provide a valuable perspective and global network for the Commission. I would appreciate your prayers for this opportunity as we continue. . .

Living in His-Story,

Samuel E. Ericsson
President & CEO

 

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M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Advocates' Chairman, John E. Langlois, Parliament, Isle of Guernsey
and Board of Directors
FROM: Advocates' President & CEO, Samuel E. Ericsson
DATE: March 26, 2001
SUBJECT: First Quarter Report

This has been one of the busiest periods in Advocates' ten-year history. The impact that our 195 Convocation alumni are having in 75 nations is amazing. As you'll see from this report, so far this year we have specific activities to report in 30 nations. The purpose of this memo is to highlight where we've been and where we hope to go in the months ahead. I will also share some of our recent speaking opportunities in addition to those mentioned specifically in the country reports. I will mention our staff by their first names: Executive VP Wally Cheney, Liaison to the UN Ambassador Slavi Pachovski, Staff Counsel Johanna Blom, Religious Liberty Commission Email Moderator Mark Albrecht, Director of Communications Jill Wilson, and International Advocate at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva Elizabeth Batha. Gloria Cheney, our Prayer Calendar Coordinator, continues to provide the "glue" that keeps the network prayerfully together on a weekly, and even daily, basis.

Where We've Been

Albania: Slavi and I participated in a workshop in February in Tirana on a proposed law on religious organizations. I was one of the plenary speakers along with other church-state experts from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Romania, and the U.S. My talk, "Albania at the Crossroads: Finding Common Ground," focused on Albania's new Constitution adopted in 1998, for which Board Member Roger Sherrard and I served as consultants along with some of our Albanian advocates. The Constitution provides multiple protections of religious freedom and a unique Preamble which states in part:

We, the people of Albania, proud and aware of our history, with responsibility for
the future, and with faith in God. . . establish this Constitution.

We believe that this is the only constitution adopted in Europe after World War II that makes reference to "faith in God." We feel this is significant in light of the thirty years of official atheism, which led to the most brutal regime in post-war Europe. We are very encouraged at the progress we see in Albania in the area of religious freedom, conflict resolution, and the integration of faith and profession. Our meetings with our local advocates including Fatmir, Toni, Alfred, Bob, and Robb were very fruitful. Likewise, we spent significant time with President Meidani, Chief Justice Kondi, and other officials addressing rule of law issues.

Finally, Advocates was successful in securing a $22,000 grant for 2000 Convocation alumna Gesina, a wonderful Dutch woman who has lived in Albania for 10 years. She directs the only ministry for disabled children in Albania. The grant will help her minister to "the least of these."

Australia: Elenne left the 2000 Convocation energized. She has organized and motivated the Christian Lawyers Society throughout Australia, one of the most secular nations in the world. In addition, she has been instrumental in helping get Advocates International planted in Papua New Guinea. In sum, "it only takes a spark to get a fire going."

Austria: In February Slavi and I met one of Austria's governmental experts on church-state during our visit to Albania. In a layover in Vienna, we were able to strengthen our ties with this expert. We believe this strategic relationship will benefit our work in Europe in the years ahead.

Bulgaria: Slavi and I met with over 40 of the members of our Rule of Law Institute directed by Latcho in February. A highly esteemed lawyer in Bulgaria told us that the Institute has become the most respected public interest law group in Bulgaria. The 125 members are engaged in over 20 projects and recently received a grant from the U.S. embassy to address religious freedom issues. The Institute is also active in helping draft a new law on religion. During our visit, we met with Bulgaria's Vice President, President of the Constitutional Court, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, Director of Religious Affairs, and one of the justices of the Supreme Court. Bulgaria has become the hub for Advocates' activities in the Balkans. It is exciting to see the fruit from our ten-year involvement in that country. One highlight of our trip was speaking at the Evangelical Congregational Church in Sofia. Their property had been confiscated by the communists, and we had a role in getting it returned.

Cameroon: At our Convocations, Peacemaker Ministries conducts full-day seminars on Biblical conflict resolution. Daniel, a 2000 alumnus, returned home to organize a workshops in his church and for Wycliffe Bible Translators on conflict resolution.

Greece: On our recent trip Slavi and I spent time with alumnus Vassilios. He was the lead counsel in a major church-state trial in February in Thessalonica, where ten evangelical churches were under threat of losing their status. Vassilios's advocacy was so effective that the prosecutor told the judge that the law that the state officials were trying to implement was unconstitutional. The judge agreed. Vassilios is a tremendous asset to our religious liberty efforts in his nation.

India: Six Indians participated in our 2000 Convocation, including one of the few Christians in their parliament. Teteii reports that she has been working on launching five networks in Bangalore, including the Christian Legal Professionals Network and the Ministries to Christian Families Network. Anil returned from the Convocation to start the Christian Lawyers Association in Mizoram where over 25 lawyers have shown interest.

Israel: Botrus, a 1999 alumnus, is a highly-respected Arab Christian lawyer practicing in Nazareth. He helped develop the Nazareth Village, a first-century farm and village reenacting the life and times of Jesus (www.nazarethvillage.com). He recently launched a website (www.comeandsee.co.il) which provides another view on political developments in Israel.

Macedonia: At the meetings in Albania, we met several Macedonians, and I discovered that Slavi is somewhat of a national hero there. In 1991 several Macedonians were facing major legal problems which Slavi, who was then a law professor at Sofia University, helped resolve when no one else was willing to get involved. His role as a "Good Samaritan" is bearing fruit a decade later. We were invited to help Macedonia in various constructive ways.

Malaysia: 2000 alumnus Min is a religious liberty advocate and scholar in Malaysia and counsel to the Evangelical Alliance of Southeast Asia. Recently, he led a team of doctors and other professionals to remote villages in Indonesia to survey the plight of persecuted Christians.

Mongolia: Baasankhuu, the Director of our Rule of Law Institute in Mongolia, has been active in several church-state matters and in organizing Christian lawyers. He reports that recently the government has decided that there are "too many churches" registered. This is a disappointing bit of news. Mongolia has experienced its second horrific winter, which has killed millions of their livestock. Recently the terrible foot and mouth disease has reached Mongolia, which will be devastating for a country heavily dependent on meat for its diet. Be in prayer for Mongolia.

Pakistan: Samson attended the 2000 Convocation along with four other Pakistani lawyers and continues to be on the frontlines of religious freedom advocacy in a nation where Christians face great challenges.

Papua New Guinea: Nene, a 2000 alumnus from Ghana, met Andrew, a Christian lawyer from PNG, and referred him to Advocates. We, in turn, put him in touch with Elenne in Australia, and Andrew attended the meeting of Christian lawyers in Australia. As a result, Andrew is sending a mailing to Christian lawyers in PNG with the hope of starting a Christian lawyer group there.

Peru: 2000 Convocation alumni Nina and Carlos, both law professors, returned home as excited as anyone we've ever seen. They organized the "Christian Legal Society of Peru" with a comprehensive program for 2001 including serving as the host country for our 2001 Leadership Conference for Latin America, where we hope that 70 law professionals from 15 countries will be in attendance. At their March meeting, an encouraging number of lawyers, judges, and law professors joined Nina and Carlos in launching the program.

Portugal: Slavi and I visited our Convocation colleagues Fernando, law professors Jonatas and Sergio. We had the first "Advocates for Portugal" dinner with 16 lawyers, judges and law professors in attendance. After the meal, the group stood in the cold outside the restaurant on Lisbon's sidewalk until midnight making plans for 2001. Lisbon will be the host city for the 2001 Leadership Conference for Europe, where we hope that over 200 law professionals from 38 European nations will be in attendance. Fernando arranged for us to meet briefly with the Chief Justice, whom I met a few years ago on my first visit, and Justice Bravo, the most respected evangelical lawyer in Portugal, who was appointed to the Supreme Court last year. Sergio is editing a series of evangelical TV programs, including one with lawyers and judges entitled, "The Trial of Christ," inspired by his attendance at the 2000 Convocation.

Romania: At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC in February, Wally met a British law professor who has been teaching in Romania for over a decade. He is very interested in working with us. At the Albanian conference I also met the new Director of Religious Affairs for Romania. He is a bright young scholar who is very open to strengthening religious freedom for all faiths. We hope that he will visit us this summer. Finally, Salonica, a 1998 and 1999 alumna, started the Christian lawyers fellowship in Romania which has held several meetings.

Russia: Katya, an alumna from 1999 and 2000, directs the Esther Legal Information Center in Moscow. Last year we helped her publish a legal handbook for churches and ministries on how to comply with the complicated legal system facing Christians in Russia. She has enabled many churches to become registered as a result of this handbook and the Center's work. Katya is on the board of the Russian-American Christian University where she teaches a law course.

Scotland: Murray attended the 2000 Convocation and recently spoke to lawyers at the Christian Fellowship Student Conference in Scotland along with Steve, a 2000 alumnus from the UK.

South Africa: Reg, an alumnus from 1998 and 2000, along with Teresa, who attended in 1999 and 2000, continue to teach conflict resolution concepts in South Africa. In March, Gary Friesen of Peacemaker Ministries will travel to South Africa to join them in their efforts.

Spain: Slavi and I visited with Convocation alumni Eliseo and University of Madrid law professor Carmen. They arranged for very productive meetings with key government lawyers and scholars engaged in church-state issues. We also met with the Director of Spain's Evangelical Alliance, who happens to be a lawyer. Our colleagues in Spain are very excited about launching "Advocates for Spain" and know at least 40 lawyers who are interested.

United Nations - Geneva, Switzerland: Our Advocates' staff, including Slavi, Johanna, Mark, Jill, and I, have been engaged in recent weeks preparing a 25-page report for the World Evangelical Fellowship's Religious Liberty Commission entitled, "The Geneva Report 2001: A Perspective on Global Religious Freedom: Challenges Facing the Christian Community." Elizabeth continues to be a voice at the UN for the voiceless.

United Nations -- New York: Using a network he has developed over the past nine years in New York City, Slavi has been helping Prison Fellowship International with its Resolution on Restorative Justice that he was instrumental in getting adopted at the UN Criminal Justice Commission in April, 2000. He has helped several groups seeking status at the UN.

Zimbabwe: 2000 alumnus Daniel (a.k.a. Fortune) is a recent law graduate who returned home with great ideas for Christian lawyers in a country undergoing tremendous turmoil. Recently, he emailed us outlining his plans to launch a Christian law group in his country.

Worldwide: We continue to provide counsel to mission agencies whose staff encounter serious legal problems, including threats of deportation or arrest.

 

Where We're Going

Albania: Toni, an alumnus from 1998 and 1999, was recently elected President of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania. He is currently involved in drafting an agreement with the government for the evangelical community and is being assisted by other European advocates.

Roger Sherrard will participate in a constitutional law conference in early April at the invitation of the President of the Constitutional Court. Joining Roger will be CLS member Roger Magnuson from Minneapolis and John Kuder, a Chief Judge from Florida. Roger Magnuson was counsel to the Florida legislature in the Bush/Gore election controversy last year.

For two weeks in May we will host two bright young lawyers who work with the Ministry of Justice in the law drafting section.

Bulgaria: Latcho and his team at the Rule of Law Institute will soon publish a "Religious Freedom Reporter" to track cases and other legal developments in Bulgaria. Latcho will speak in June at the European Evangelical Alliance conference on European church and state issues. Also speaking at the conference will be Board Members John Langlois and Johan Candelin.

China: In April Wally, Board Member Tim Klenk, Federal Judge Eric Bruggink, and I will visit Beijing. We will meet with colleagues and hope to see Dr. Ye again, the Director of China's Religious Affairs Bureau, with whom we have a warm relationship. There are many challenges in China but we thank God for the 100 million faithful believers.

Estonia: In April, on my first visit to Estonia, I will confer on a major challenge which needs mediation at the invitation of the advisor on religious affairs to the President.

Finland: Before flying to Estonia, I will visit Board Member Johan Candelin in Helsinki. I serve as Counsel to WEF's Religious Liberty Commission, which Johan directs. I will meet with several members of parliament who take an active interest in human rights issues. I hope to meet with judges and our advocate in Helsinki, Hannu, who works in the Supreme Court.

France: Wally and Slavi will visit our advocates in France in early April. They will also meet with our colleagues at the European Center for Law and Justice in Strasbourg.

Kazakhstan: On March 27 and 28, the Protestant community in Kazakhstan will present a seminar for government officials and other leaders in Almaty on the Protestant view of church and state, citizenship, military service, charity, and other sensitive issues. I will be a speaker along with our colleague, Matt, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who now works with the legal profession in Central Asia. There are many major issues facing religious minorities in Kazakhstan. Your prayers are greatly appreciated.

Mongolia: We will conduct our fourth judicial conference with Mongolia's Supreme Court during the week of April 23. The U.S. team will include Wally, Board Member Tim Klenk, and Federal Judge Eric Bruggink, and myself. Chief Justice Ganbat (1999 alumnus) and Justice Ganzorig (1998, 1999, 2000 alumnus) are planning the conference with us. In addition, we will meet with our team at the Rule of Law Institute in Ulaanbaatar. We will also meet with officials to discuss the government's recent position that there are "too many churches."

Scotland: Wally will visit Aberdeen on April 4-5 and address a group of Christian lawyers organized by our advocate, Murray, a 2000 alumnus.

South Korea: Wally and I will visit several of our South Korean alumni to begin preparing for the Advocates for Asia Leadership Conference to be held in mid-October in Seoul. We also hope to have an opportunity to address the Korean Christian lawyer fellowship during the visit.

Uganda: Mike, a 1998 and 2000 alumnus, is the legal advisor to the President of Uganda, who was just re-elected. Mike is directing the team that will convene and host the Advocates for Africa Leadership Conference in August. We hope 28 African nations will be represented.

United Nations - Geneva, Switzerland: Slavi, Johanna, Elizabeth, and Johan Candelin will be in Geneva, Switzerland March 28-April 5 participating in the UN Commission on Human Rights sessions on religious liberty. Johan will lead a press conference where he will present "The Geneva Report 2001: A Perspective on Global Religious Freedom: Challenges Facing the Christian Community," which Johanna, Slavi, Mark, Jill, Johan, and I have written. Anyone interested in a free copy of the 25-page report, please ask.

United Nations - New York: Slavi is busy organizing our Rule of Law Forum, which will be a vehicle for bringing diplomats together for informal meetings on religious freedom, human rights, conflict resolution, ethics, and the integration of faith in the public square. We plan to have our first luncheon in late April and hope to see 100 UN diplomats in attendance.

 

Speaking Opportunities

In addition to the opportunities mentioned above, I have had the privilege of speaking at several places, including: Annandale United Methodist Church Senior Fellowship, Army-Navy Club Men's Fellowship, University of Richmond Law School Christian Legal Society chapter, University of Virginia Christian Law Fellowship, Reston Bible Church high school group, Chantilly Christian Church, Burnt Factory United Methodist Church, Dunn Loring Methodist Men's prayer breakfast, and Trinity Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

On May 19-21, I will speak at the Brandywine Forum, "The Jericho Road: A New Call to Global Engagement" sponsored by the Institute for Global Engagement focusing on the Good Samaritan parable as a framework for faith-based engagement in the 21st Century. My topic is "The Role of the Innkeeper." The President of this Institute, a "think tank with legs," is Robert Seiple, the first ever U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He was President of World Vision for 11 years and President of Eastern College and Seminary. Ambassador Seiple's Institute seeks to "develop sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide, and to inspire and equip emerging leaders with faith-based methodologies of engagement." If interested in the forum or the Institute, visit www.globalengagement.org. Ambassador Seiple is a co-laborer with us and one of Advocates' best friends.