May 00

 

May, 2000

Dear Friend,

You can see the breadth and depth of our global mission in TEAM 2000 --- HIGHLIGHTS FROM AN ACTIVE NETWORK. There were several co/incidents this past month that reconfirms the Authorship of His-story in our work. Let me share a few.

Internet as His-story: During May 5-7, I will be attending the New Europe Forum in Budapest, Hungary, which will address challenges facing Christians in Europe, including the issue of religious freedom. I hope to see European colleagues from 20 nations at the meeting. We had invited Alfred Mustafah, a sharp, young advocate carrying our banner in Albania, but the Hungarian embassy in Tirana would not issue a visa in time unless the invitation came from a registered Hungarian organization. He was told that the official letter had to be received the next day or it would be too late. Alfred sent me an URGENT e-mail about this problem.

The only person I know heading up an organization in Hungary is Bob, an American medical doctor who oversees a health program in Budapest, but I did not have his e-mail address or business card. Bob's sister, Sue, who lives in Maryland, is active in a local prayer group which focuses on praying for the transition taking place in several former communist nations, but I did not have her e-mail or business card either. At that point, I moved on to other matters.

The first thing I did was to check my old AOL e-mail account to see if there were any messages. There was one from Howard, the local prayer group leader, who had sent an e-mail to correct the time for the group's next meeting. Among the e-mail addresses listed in his message was Sue's!! I immediately sent Sue an URGENT e-mail request as to how I could reach her brother in Budapest, but Sue was out of the office at an all-day meeting. When she received an emergency message that required her to go to her office, she decided to also check her e-mail and saw my URGENT message. She sent me the information I needed. I called Bob at 10:00PM Budapest time and sent him a draft of the proposed letter for him to fax to the Hungarian embassy in Albania the next morning. Bob translated it into Hungarian and faxed the letter to Tirana. At noon, Alfred picked up his visa for his trip to Budapest! It's nice to know that there is Someone who really knows how to use the internet!

Don't Quit When the INS Says "No!": In February, 2000 we retained former Bulgarian Ambassador to the U.N., Slavi Pachowski, to serve as our full-time Liaison to the U.N.. A few weeks ago, Wally Cheney and I went to New York City for several meetings arranged by Slavi. It is hard to overstate the value of having a former Ambassador walk the halls at the U.N., meeting with his colleagues on issues of concern to us.

One organization with which we have worked closely for the past decade is Prison Fellowship International (PFI), the global arm of Chuck Colson's ministry. For several years, PFI has been working on a strategic Declaration on Restorative Justice for the UN to consider. This spring there was a window of opportunity to move on this project, and PFI needed Slavi's help. We freed Slavi up to help PFI at the U.N. in New York and at the UN's Criminal Justice Commission in Vienna, Austria.

In order to attend the sessions in Vienna, Slavi needed a special visa from the INS. We applied for the visa through normal channels in Washington, DC helped by our Board member, Ann Buwalda, an immigration lawyer with offices next to us. The INS refused to expedite the request and sent us a quick and firm "No!" A few days later, Slavi decided to drop in on the local INS office in New York to see what they could do. The officer Slavi met with just happened to be a student at Seton Hall Law School where Slavi just happens to be an adjunct professor! Within minutes, Slavi had the visa --- good for a full year! He flew to Vienna for the U.N. meetings on PFI's project. The meetings were very productive. It's wonderful to see that the Author of His-story can even cut through red tape at the INS. I would call that a modern day miracle!!

A 13 Year Prison Term for Sharing His Faith --- True or False? One morning in April I received e-mails from Belgium, Finland, Kazakhstan and the U.S. Congress about a story originating in Kazahkstan about a Christian doctor in southwest Mongolia who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for sharing his faith. When I read the story, it just did not sound right. We have been active in Mongolia for four years and have seen great progress in this former communist nation as to human rights and religious freedom. When I shared the story with Justice Ganzorig of the Mongolian Supreme Court, who is studying in the U.S., he said, "This is weird!" A murderer gets a maximum of ten years in prison in Mongolia, and Justice Ganzorig found it difficult to believe that someone could be sentenced to 13 years for religious reasons. He contacted the Chief Justice who had been a guest at our 1999 Convocation to try to get the facts.

The morning I received the four e-mails, I had a call from BJ, one of our Christian colleagues in Mongolia. He just happened to be visiting Northern Virginia and was to return to Mongolia in two days. Wow!! Over lunch, we discussed the story with him. He too found it difficult to believe. He gave us a quick history lesson on Christianity in Mongolia going back to Genghis Khan and helped us compose letters to several high officials in Ulaanbaatar asking them to look into the story. BJ took the letters with him and hand-delivered them a few days later. We also asked our local lawyer in Mongolia to check out the story. They all came back with the same answer --- they could find no factual basis for the story.

A few days later Bobby and I were invited to dinner with two Christian art professors from Kazahkstan who were visiting for a few weeks. The day after the dinner, I received documents from the news service that had released the story. The documents were in Mongolian and Kazahk. Justice Ganzorig and our new friends from Kazahkstan helped translate them. It now appears quite certain that there is no factual basis for the story. I hope that is true. However, if the story is accurate, we have our team in Mongolia ready to act as counsel if necessary. Again, it is very comforting to "connect the dots" as they unfold as we continue...

Living in His-story,

Sam Ericsson
President

 

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TEAM 2000 --- HIGHLIGHTS FROM AN ACTIVE NETWORK
by Samuel E. Ericsson and Wallace H. Cheney

The mission of Advocates International is to promote religious freedom, encourage reconciliation through conflict resolution and strengthen the ethical base in law and life by integrating universal truths such as the Golden Rule. In October, 1999 more than 100 lawyers, judges and national leaders from 43 nations participated in Advocates' second International Convocation. Following are a few highlights of the global network of colleagues committed to carrying out our mission through a servant leadership model:

AFRICA: Kenyan colleagues, Peter Waiyki, Kamotho Waiganjo and David Mwaura are preparing the second Africa Christian Lawyers Network (ACLN) Conference to be held in Kenya August 8 to 13, 2000. The theme will be Christian Lawyers Impacting Africa for the 21st Century based on Isaiah 60:1 "Arise and shine for your Light has come." They believe that the only hope for a solution to the myriad problems of Africa is for Christians and particularly Christian professionals to live their faith with integrity, commitment and diligence. They will do a biblical exposition on the character of Joseph and discuss the role of Christian lawyers in legal and constitutional reform.

As part of the conference, there will be a full day of training for lawyers and church leaders in conflict resolution and reconciliation principles. They expect 100-150 from all over Africa to attend. They still need about $33,000 to effectively host the conference.

ASIA: Advocates' Senior Editor, Mark Albrecht, traveled to Southeast Asia this spring to investigate religious liberty and related issues facing believers throughout the region. His trip included productive meetings with colleagues and believers in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Australia. In addition to serving as our Senior Editor, Mark is the Religious Liberty E-conference moderator for the World Evangelical Fellowship's Religious Liberty Commission which keeps nearly 1000 leaders informed.

Mark reported special concerns facing believers in Indonesia where some extremists have called for a holy war and religious hostilities could spin out of control. In Vietnam, the government is concerned about the growth of the church because of the events that took place in Eastern Europe where communism collapsed in large part because of the dynamic influence of the church. Over 12,000 prisoners were recently granted amnesty in Vietnam during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. When the government was asked why there were no Christians released, they denied that there were any religious prisoners.

EUROPE: The European Evangelical Alliance is hosting their biennial New Europe Forum in Budapest, Hungary, May 5 to 7. Advocates is using this opportunity to draw together our European colleagues enabling us to focus on plans for strengthening the continental network. Those joining Sam Ericsson, Mark Albrecht and Advocates' Board Chairman John Langlois include lawyers from Albania, Bulgaria, France, Guernsey, Holland, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. There are serious religious freedom challenges facing believers in several European countries which may be the least "religious" continent in the world. The meeting will focus on how to respond to these challenges.

GLOBAL VOICE: Sam Ericsson and Finnish Lutheran pastor, Johan Candelin, Director of the Religious Liberty Commission, serve as co-editors of Global Voice, a networking service reaching over 2,000 parliamentarians around the world. Mark Albrecht serves as managing editor. Contributors this year have included: 1) Albania's President Rexhep Meidani on Finding Common Ground and 2) recently-retired President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, on The Role of Religion in Constructing National Unity: A Case Study in Namibia. Plans call for future articles by the Presidents of Costa Rica, Uganda and Zambia, the Speaker of the Parliament in Mongolia, and several Scandinavian officials.

UNITED NATIONS -- GENEVA: In July,1999 Advocates International opened a full-time office in Geneva, Switzerland in order to have a presence at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. British solicitor, Elizabeth Batha, serves as our advocate and is developing a network of colleagues concerned about the rights of religious minorities, discrimination and persecution. During a very busy first year, Elizabeth raised questions at U.N. meetings about specific cases in several countries including Burma, China, India, Laos, Pakistan, Sudan and Vietnam. General Counsel Wally Cheney and Johan Candelin joined Elizabeth at the April, 2000 hearings held by the Commission on Human Rights on religious liberty issues.

UNITED NATIONS - NEW YORK CITY: In February, 2000, former Bulgarian Ambassador to the United Nations, Slavi Pachovski, became Advocates' full-time Liaison to the United Nations in New York. A participant in Advocates' 1999 Convocation and a former human rights law professor at Sofia University Law School, Ambassador Pachovski is working with colleagues at the U.N. on ways to effectively address issues impacting religious liberty, conflict resolution, justice and ethics.

UNITED NATIONS - VIENNA: Advocates International works with several global groups on justice issues of mutual concern. This spring, Prison Fellowship International (PFI), the global arm of Charles Colson's ministry, approached Advocates and Ambassador Pachovski to help them advance a Declaration on Restorative Justice that PFI has been working on for several years. Working closely with PFI leaders, diplomats and lawyers, Ambassador Pachovski was able to make significant progress in moving the Declaration forward in New York and at the U.N. Commission on Criminal Justice meetings held in April in Vienna, Austria.

ALBANIA: Last month we reported about the plans of the new Chief of the Committee on the Cults to have government agencies more involved in internal matters of religious institutions and to impose new registration requirements on religious workers. Alfred, our Albanian counsel, has been watching this situation closely. Recently, in response to a letter written by Sam Ericsson to President Rexhep Meidani expressing concern that Albania appeared to be backsliding from the significant human rights progress made over the past decade, the President passed on the letter and reiterated the same concerns to the Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament.

Planning has begun for the Fourth Judicial Conference to be sponsored by the Albanian Supreme Court. It will be held in September, 2000. Board Member Roger Sherrard is heading up the effort with U.S. participants including Washington Chief Justice Robert Utter (ret.), Texas Justice Raul Gonzales (ret.) and Washington Judge Charles Wiggins.

ARMENIA: Advocates' 1999 Convocation alumna, Constitutional Court Justice Alvina Gyulumyan, is proceeding with plans for an international judicial conference in October, 2000 co-sponsored by the Constitutional Court and the Armenian Orthodox Church. The topic proposed by the Court and Church is Christianity and Law and will focus on topics including the Biblical view of justice and its impact on the role of judges, lawyers and prosecutors. Sam Ericsson and Board Member Lynn Buzzard will participate in this conference. It is mind-boggling to think that a former Soviet Republic High Court would propose reexamining its Judeo-Christian roots in order to better understand what had been destroyed during the 70 years of communism and to rediscover universal principles on which to rebuild a system of justice.

BULGARIA: Now in its sixth year, the Rule of Law Institute had a very exciting and active spring, including acquiring ideal permanent office space in Sofia. In March, Advocates International joined with RLI in responding to invitations by the Bulgarian Parliament and the Council of Ministers for input to a proposed law on religion. The comments were well received. RLI Director, Latcho Popov, was also invited by the World Lutheran Federation to address a symposium at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on the status of religious freedom in Bulgaria and the proposed law.

After an eight-year legal battle led by Latcho, the City of Sofia finally removed all the legal hurdles the Baptist Union had been fighting in order to get clear title to land that had been confiscated during the communist regime. The Baptist Union can now proceed with plans to build an orphanage on the property.

CHINA: Advocates' American counsel in Chengdu was recently elected Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce for that strategic commercial province. Advocates has also been engaged for the past eight months in an effort to gain the release of David Chow, a Christian Chinese-American lawyer from California who has been languishing in a Chinese prison for five years for refusing to confess to a crime he did not commit. Although there have been some bits of news from time to time there appears to be very little movement. Mr. Chow's health is deteriorating and time is of the essence for his release. Congressmen Joe Pitts and Don Manzullo have been very helpful in this matter.

EGYPT: Advocates' Director for Middle East Affairs, Nagi Kheir, has been very involved in responding to the horrific killing of 21 Christians on New Years' day in Egypt. As the Spokesperson for the American Coptic Association, Nagi has played a leading role in mobilizing a response by the Christian community in Egypt and spearheading an appeal for help from the U.S. in Washington, DC. Advocates enabled its Middle East Counsel, Morris Sadik, a leading human rights lawyer in Cairo to be engaged in the legal fallout facing Christians flowing from this tragedy.

ENGLAND: After being trained by Peacemaker Ministries in the U.S. and attending Advocates' 1999 Convocation, British barrister and local Judge, Christopher Smyth, returned to England encouraged to launch a similar conflict resolution and reconciliation program. The service will soon be available for those who wish to be trained in conflict resolution, as well as to help resolve conflict in specific cases.

ISRAEL: Advocates' counsel in Israel, Marvin Kramer and Botrus Mansour, helped organize a two-day conflict resolution seminar for church leaders in Haifa. They also helped organize the first-ever gathering of a Christian lawyer fellowship to begin addressing the many legal challenges minority faiths face in Israel. To add to Marvin's many hats, he recently assumed the leadership of Pro-Life Israel, a network of nine Crisis Pregnancy Centers in a country where the per capita abortion rate is twice that of the U.S.

IVORY COAST: Michel Kokra has been active organizing a conflict resolution program for church leaders and lawyers in the Ivory Coast. Due to recent political turmoil, the need for such a program is greater than ever --- and also much more difficult to launch.

KENYA: Advocates' alumni, Kamotho Waiganjo and David Mwaura, were recently elected to the governing board of the national Kenyan Bar Association.

MONGOLIA Plans are underway for our Fourth Judicial Conference in Mongolia co-sponsored by their Supreme Court. Board Member John Johnson is helping organize this conference with Mongolian Supreme Court Justice Ganzorig, who is a judicial intern at Advocates International, and Chief Justiice Ganbat who participated in the 1999 Convocation. Washington State Chief Justice Richard Guy will participate, along with Federal Court of Claims Judge Eric Bruggink.

RUSSIA: One of the most joyful and exuberant lawyers we have met is Ekaterina "Katya" Smyslova of Esther Legal Information Centre in Moscow. The Esther Centre helps churches and ministries in Russia deal with major legal issues. Katya has just completed a 200-page Legal Handbook for Churches and Pastors thataddresses legal issues facing churches, pastors and missionaries. The practical handbook covers registering with various agencies; establishing proper tax status; setting up bank accounts; renting, buying and selling property; basic contract law; invitations to foreign guests; the legal status of foreign missionaries; labor law and dealing with law enforcement agencies. The book includes legal forms and sample letters. Advocates International is providing the $2,000 needed to publish 3000 copies of this book --- a cost of only 67 cents each. What a cost-effective way to promote religious liberty in Russia!!