"You can go to band camp, you go to soccer camp, you can go to football camp and you can go to a work camp. And they've chosen not to go to another country or to a big city, inner city, but to go to places throughout the United States and work," said project co-chair Mayor Steve Mercer.
The work camps program started in 1975 in Colorado when a storm caused a flood that wiped out a small town and church. Locals from around the area, particularly youth, pitched in to help with the rebuilding of the city and the program grew from that.
Project co-chair Brad Fuller recently spent a week in Colorado where he learned more about the program and its workings. Fuller is in charge of home selection and assembling the needed materials.
"It's a well oiled machine," Fuller said. "They're teenagers, they're not skilled laborers, but they're all coming to this camp because they have some degree of skill."
The program will see 400 youths and 100 adult supervisors stay in Coshocton from June 13 to 19. They will do light repair and painting on 70 to 80 homes. When staying in Coshocton for the week, they will sleep and eat at Coshocton High School.
The youths ages 12 to 18 pay $424 to take part in the program, which pays for transportation, food and other needs. Those who wish to have their house worked on pay nothing.
"I see it as something that will be such a tremendous help to our community and to people in need. It's geared toward low to moderate income, the elderly or disabled, and certainly the economy the way it is it is difficult for that demographic to do much maintenance. So to have a group like this to come in at a time like this is just a perfect fit to give our community a real shine," Mercer said.
The program is Christian-based and provides more than physical repairs and work to the teens taking part and the communities they go to.
"It's not just home repair. That's a nice by-product. What happens is, it's a spirit that happens in the community and people really get on board with it and see this community spirit and take more pride in their homes," Fuller said. "Spiritually what happens (with the teens taking part) is a great thing. It's building them up personally. They know they have the ability to help their fellow man. The by-product is we get out town looking a little better."
Locally, $19,000 needs to be raised to pay for materials and supplies for the work. Paint, tools, ladders and other equipment also can be donated.
"I'm confident that we'll be able to raise the dollar amount that we need without city funds," Mercer said. "That money stays right here, it goes nowhere else."
The Coshocton Baptist Church is acting as fiscal agent for the project. Checks can be made to Coshocton Work Camps and mailed to the Coshocton Baptist Church, 1631 Denman Ave., Coshocton, OH 43812.
Applications for the project soon will be available at City Hall and those who wish to donate materials or some how aide the project can call the mayor's office at 622-1373 or Brad Fuller at 623-8027
Villagers Find Severed Head of Kidnapped Cristian Farmer In Phillippines
Al-Qaeda-linked radical group beheads elderly hostage
in series of kidnappings
ISTANBUL, In separate attacks in Egypt earlier this month, a Coptic Christian suffered severe stab wounds as he left a worship service in Minya, and a car-bombing outside a venerable church in Cairo disrupted a wedding.
Without provocation, three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary in Minya, Upper Egypt on May 2, according to Copts United.
The assault left him with severe injuries to internal organs, and he was taken to the district hospital, where he was still receiving treatment at press time.
When Yousry’s father went to the police station to report the attack, the Intelligence Services officer in charge threw him out of the station. Three men implicated in the stabbing, Wael Mohammed Hagag, Mohammed Nasr Anwar and Shabaan Sayed Amin, were arrested on May 5 and have been given a 16-day initial incarceration while the investigation is underway.
All three men stand accused of attempted murder without premeditation, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years.
But Mamdouh Nakhla, president of the Al-Kalema Centre for Human Rights, said he thinks it unlikely that they will be convicted.
“From my experience over the last 15 years, in Minya in particular, all cases of attacks and murder against Christians either went without punishment and [the accused] were totally exonerated, or they were given suspended sentences,” he said.
Home to Egypt’s largest community of Copts (approximately 4 million), Minya is considered a hotbed of anti-Christian violence.
“I am aware of severe injustices happening to Christians who are being incarcerated for no reason,” said Nakhla. “This is my experience of Minya.”
Local sources told Compass that in the last few months there has been a wave of arrests of Christians who are held with no official charges. Sources spoke of cases where detainees are held for months in prison, where they are badly beaten and tortured.
“Police brutality is a widely practiced policy,” said one source, “especially in rural areas, group punishment and systematic intimidation and humiliation are expected practices against all citizens, Christians included.”
This month Compass learned of three illegal arrests of Christians that have taken place since November 2008. Two of the men who were detained have since been released.
“When people are released, they have been beaten and electrocuted so that they are hardly standing up,” said a local Christian.
Local church leaders believe recent pressure is a response to rumors of an increase in Christian converts in Egypt due to Christian satellite programming, although arrests go beyond converts to Coptic-born Christians.
ISTANBUL, Pakistani Christians in Swat Valley are caught between the Taliban and Pakistan’s military as it assaults the stronghold where sharia (Islamic law) rules.
Nearly 15,000 troops have been deployed in the picturesque Swat Valley in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and neighboring Afghanistan. Troops came after months of peace negotiations collapsed between the Taliban Islamist insurgents who have imposed sharia in the valley and the central government last month. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have fled the war-ravaged area for fear of a full military assault.
On May 10 (Sunday) the army ordered residents to flee Swat Valley during a lull in fighting. Aid groups estimate that as many as 1.3 million could be displaced by the fighting, according to The Guardian.
Christians are particularly vulnerable in the mass exodus. Working as poor day laborers, they occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder and have little money for costly transport or to stock up on resources before fleeing.
“Christians are poor, and like in any conflict, the prices of transportation and commodities skyrocket,” said Ashar Dean, assistant director of communication of the Church of Pakistan Peshawar diocese. “Some had to go on foot to flee the valley.”
The Taliban had ratcheted up pressure on Christians, other religious minorities and liberal Muslims in Swat to live according to Islamic fundamentalist norms. They were forced to grow beards and don Islamic attire for fear of their safety in an attempt to blend in with Muslim residents of Swat.
Many Christians also fled for insufficient funds to pay the jizye, a poll tax under sharia paid by non-Muslims for protection if they decline to convert to Islam.
In February the Pakistani government ceded control of Swat valley to the Taliban, who imposed their version of sharia and established clerical rule over the legal system. But Christians had seen warning signs long before the formal sharia announcement. In the past year the Taliban burned or bombed more than 200 girls’ schools in Swat, including one that housed a Catholic church.
Religious minorities live in a precarious situation in the Muslim-dominated country. The legal system informally discriminates against non-Muslims, and in recent years Christian villages have been ransacked by Muslim mobs incited by dubious reports that a Quran had been desecrated.
The Taliban’s attempts to spread out from Swat into neighboring areas, however, have increased feelings of insecurity among the nation’s 3 million Christians.
“The threat of the Taliban is a hanging sword above the necks of Christians,” said Sohail Johnson, chief coordinator of Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan. “Christians could be in the situation where they would have to accept Islam or die.”
Swat Christians Flee
Approximately 40-60 Christian families lived in Swat as congregants at the Church of Pakistan. But since Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on April 8 announced a military mission into Swat, nearly all have fled to nearby districts.
Most are in refugee housing in Mardan in the NWFP. They stay in a technical school owned by the Church of Pakistan, a congregation composed of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans
The school dismissed its students for the school year early to make room for the refugees. Opening its doors to the displaced Christians was necessary due to government inaction toward religious minorities, said Yousaf Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.
“The government is giving protection to Muslims, but the Christians are through waiting for their services,” he said.
Similar measures are being employed in hundreds of schools. To provide for the massive influx in refugees, the Pakistan government ended the school year early in districts near Swat and opened the schools to refugees for temporary housing. Teachers are also assisting in the humanitarian relief effort, Benjamin said.
Some Christians have complained of facing discrimination in refugee camps. Government relief workers forbade Christians, Hindus and Sikhs from setting up tents or eating with Muslim refugees, according to online news site Christian Today.
But ultimately Christians will not be able to return to Swat Valley unless the Taliban threat is completely removed, Christian relief groups said. Their possessions and property will otherwise always be under threat.
“Christians will face terrible persecution if the Taliban is not controlled by the government,” Johnson said. “They will easily attack churches, schools and other Christian institutions.”
Rehman Malik, the interior minister, said Pakistan’s military operation would continue until the last Taliban fighter had been ousted. Since April 8, government troops have killed an estimated 751 militants.
There are believed to be 5,000 Taliban militants in Swat Valley. The government hopes to minimize civilian casualties through precision air strikes and delivering emergency humanitarian aid.
Pakistan’s government has come under harsh national and international criticism for its negotiations with the Taliban and ceding control of Swat. They fear the Taliban could seize control of the nation’s nuclear weapons.
LOS ANGELES, A Hmong man in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region who murdered his mother in February because she had become a Christian has assaulted another Christian, leaving him critically wounded, according to area Christian sources.
Lao Lia Po on April 25 allegedly attacked Koua Lo of Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province because he had become a Christian, according to a local church leader. Koua sustained severe head injuries; according to witnesses, his head was split open in two places with parts of his brain visible.
Koua was taken to a hospital, but after three days doctors said they could do nothing more for him and sent him home. As his injuries were life-threatening, those close to Koua did not expect him to recover.
The alleged attacker, Lao, is still at large and has not been charged. The assault took place in Sung Can Village, Sung Tra Commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province.
In the same area two years ago, a 74-year-old woman became the first Christian in the village. Today there are about 100 families who follow Christ, but the cost has been high. Stories of harassment and abuse of Christians in Meo Vac district have circulated for several months, with local Christians saying government officials are either complicit or look the other way.
On Feb. 3, local Christians said, Lao murdered his mother in a similarly brutal fashion, smashing her head until she died. Police only held him overnight before releasing him without charge. The day he was released, local sources said, he again threatened Christians with death.
A Vietnamese pastor petitioned the government to investigate – with no result. Another leader informed U.S. diplomats of the details. Some Vietnamese Christians have complained to Vietnam diplomatic missions abroad, all to no avail.
Advocates of religious freedom in Vietnam say such impunity puts a serious blot on Vietnam’s slowly improving religious liberty record.
Following heavy international scrutiny of Vietnam’s oppression of religion in general and Protestantism in particular, Vietnam promulgated new religion legislation in 2004 and 2005. To date this has led to the legal recognition of six church/denominational organizations, raising the total to eight out of about 70. Additionally, a few hundred of Vietnam’s thousands of house church congregations have been given interim permission to carry on religious activities, and large-scale government campaigns to force ethnic minority Christians to recant their faith have ceased.
High hopes for improvement following the new religion legislation led the U.S. Department of State to take Vietnam off its blacklist of the worst violators of religious freedom in late 2006, which enabled the U.S. government to endorse Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization. And Christian support organization Open Doors this year dropped Vietnam to No. 23 on its World Watch List ranking of religion persecutors. In eight of the last 12 years, Vietnam had been placed among the organization’s top 10 worst religious persecutors.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), however, found exceptions to progress so widespread that it again recommended naming Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) this year. The recommendation by USCIRF, responsible for monitoring state department compliance with the U.S. 1998 Law on International Religious Freedom, was announced on May 1.
The commission’s report recognizes progress but notes, “There continue to be far too many serious abuses and restrictions of religious freedom in the country. Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; police and government officials are not held fully accountable for abuses; independent religious activity remains illegal; and legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors.”
Given the uneven pace of religious freedom progress after removing Vietnam from the list of CPCs, continued detention of prisoners of conscience, and an overall deteriorating human rights situation, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated as a CPC.
In Tra Vinh Province in the Mekong Delta Region of southern Vietnam, another Christian was murdered on April 5. Thugs ambushed Thach Thanh No, described as a young and enthusiastic church elder, on his way home from Sunday worship, according to local Christian sources. His family was unable to find him quickly, and he died from his injuries as he was transported to a hospital.
The congregation in Ngoc Bien Commune to which he belonged has long been harassed and threatened by local thugs supported by militant Buddhists, according to area Christians, who emphasized that authorities have done nothing to intervene.
Indeed, in Thach’s case, rather than prosecute the killers, the Ministry of Public Security’s World Security newspaper published an article on April 24 – concocted without any factual basis, according to area Christians – which portrayed him as dying from crashing his motorbike while drunk. His motorbike, however, was found entirely unmarked without any signs of a crash, and his body showed clear signs of a vicious beating, according to area Christians.
“In one case the law winks at the murder of a Christian and does nothing to punish the murderer – in another, authorities actively work to cover up a murder with elaborate lies,” said one long-time advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam. “Such behavior on the part of authorities convinces many Vietnamese Christians that their country’s top officials are still not sincere about improving religious freedom for all.”