Bible Bonanza

A record number of full Bibles (34 million) and Scriptures (428 million) were distributed worldwide in 2014 by members of the United Bible Societies. Highlights from their report on how Scripture circulated last year are below. [Note: "Scriptures" include Old or New Testaments, the Gospels, and smaller Bible portions.]

United Kingdom: Missionaries must go

One of the world’s largest missions agencies has lost 66 staff members from its British office. This fall, United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI) officials stripped away Operation Mobilization’s (OM) license to sponsor visas. Christian ministries have been running into trouble amid UK efforts to bolster homeland security and regulate the labor force. Last year, Youth With A Mission said it learned “hard lessons” about recordkeeping after UKVI nearly forced out more than 300 missionaries and families. “We have seen the expectations and requirements on visa sponsors increase dramatically and . . . we have been unable to keep up,” OM’s UK director, Gary Sloan, told CT. OM will reapply for the license next year.

Gospel for Asia loses ECFA approval

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has removed a charter member of 36 years, concluding that Gospel for Asia (GFA) misled donors, mismanaged resources, and has an ineffective board. The move surprised GFA, one of the world’s largest missions agencies, which denied any wrongdoing and said no money “was found to be missing” during its ECFA review. But GFA admitted it may have been “unintentionally negligent” in its financial and management practices.

Singapore: Pastor convicted over pop music pipeline

One of Singapore’s most prominent pastors, Kong Hee, has been convicted of illegally using church funds on his wife’s secular singing career. The nation’s charity commissioner found Kong and five other leaders at the 17,000-member City Harvest Church (CHC) guilty of siphoning $35.9 million to support Sun Ho. The church maintains that Ho’s music was intended to evangelize non-Christians. But the funding wasn’t straightforward: donations to a sister church in Kuala Lumpur were used to support Ho, and CHC purchased $500,000 worth of unsold albums to boost Ho’s ratings before her US debut. “[I am] sorry for the pain you all have had to endure under my leadership and watch,” Kong told his congregation. “But hopefully, that season in the life of our church is in the past.”

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Guatemala: Voters pick evangelical entertainer for president

Several months after their president’s surprise resignation, Guatemalans have chosen a new leader: an evangelical television personality. Jimmy Morales has little political experience beyond running for mayor four years ago. But he holds an MBA and other degrees—including one in theology from Guatemala Baptist Seminary. Morales vowed in campaigns to be “neither corrupt nor a thief” in a year that saw outgoing president Otto Pérez Molina and other leaders arrested on fraud and corruption charges. Guatemalan evangelicals, who make up one-third of the population, have worked for peaceful reform by holding prayer meetings, handing out Bible verses on leadership, and meeting politicians, according to the United Bible Societies.

Evangelicals officially divide on death penalty

Opposing the death penalty is a legitimate application of Christian ethics, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) acknowledged for the first time this fall. Since the early 1970s, the NAE has supported capital punishment only, reasoning that it works as a deterrent and underscores the weight of heinous crimes. But “a growing number of evangelicals call for government resources to be shifted away from the death penalty,” said NAE president Leith Anderson. “Our statement allows for their advocacy.” In 2014, 59 percent of white evangelicals, 25 percent of black Protestants, and 24 percent of Hispanic Protestants preferred the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

Megachurch drops .tv for .church

An Oklahoma-based megachurch lost its $185,000 bid to distribute .church, one of the newest web domain names on the market. But, which draws 70,000 weekly attendees using video simulcast to 24 campuses in 7 states, adopted the new domain anyway—and a new name to match. Now Life.Church, the church is one of more than 13,000 websites with the .church domain. Several other groups were more successful with their bids. The Vatican controls .catholic, and the American Bible Society owns .bible. But Donuts Inc., a for-profit company that owns .email, among other domains, owns .church.

Zambia: Officially Christian nation no heaven on earth

Zambia, home of the world’s worst-performing currency and a sputtering economy, had its first national day of prayer this fall. At its new president’s directive, bars and restaurants were shut down and soccer games canceled. “Since we humbled ourselves as a people . . . [God] has heard our cry, has forgiven our sins, and will surely heal our land,” President Edgar Lungu said in his public address. Many Christian groups backed the declaration. But opposition party leader Hakainde Hichilema criticized Lungu’s proclamation as “not genuine,” and listed issues the government needed to address before calling for prayer and reconciliation.

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