More than 100 people died in a fire at a Chaldean Christian wedding in Iraq. The initial investigation indicated the blaze was started by firework fountains that ignited flammable material on the ceiling while the bride and groom danced. The hall was filled to twice the approved capacity and had no emergency exits. The owner of the hall was arrested on charges of failing to comply with safety codes, and several city officials were dismissed, including a municipal director, a tourism director, a fire chief, and a utilities department official. The BBC said, “Safety standards are often poorly observed in Iraq, which has been plagued by decades of mismanagement and corruption.” The city was reclaimed from ISIS by US-led coalition forces in 2016.

Iran: Pentecostal begins 10 years in prison

Anooshavan Avedian, an Iranian Armenian pastor, started the 10-year prison sentence he received last year for “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam.” He was arrested while leading a worship service in a Tehran home in 2020. The Assemblies of God meeting place was shut down 10 years ago for holding services in Farsi. Iranian security forces have arrested thousands of Christians in the past few years.

Pakistan: Pastor faked Islamist attack

A Presbyterian pastor was arrested and charged with making a false statement to police. According to authorities, Eleazar Sidhu administered anesthesia to his arm and then held a .30-caliber pistol very close, shooting himself in a way that would not damage a bone. He then told police he had been attacked by a Muslim extremist. “I did it because of stress,” Sidhu said in a recorded confession. Lazar Allah Rakha, an attorney who has defended Christians accused of blasphemy, said, “This hullabaloo over nothing has caused grave damage to all the true cases of persecution.”

Israel: Explosion hits Christian hospital

A misfired Hamas rocket exploded at the only Christian hospital in Gaza and killed more than 100 people, according to US intelligence. The Hamas-controlled health department immediately said it was part of an Israeli military airstrike, part of the bombardment ahead of an expected invasion aiming to eliminate Hamas. The terrorist organization attacked Israel on October 7. The accusation and the Israeli military’s denial were amplified on social media, roiling global debate about the justice of the conflict. The hospital was founded in the 1880s by Anglican missionaries who read the Bible with patients. It was taken over by Southern Baptists in 1954 and run by them for about 20 years before being returned to the Anglicans. “We are here as an instrument in the hands of God to show the love of Jesus Christ for all people,” the current director said. “This hospital will continue to be a place of reconciliation, of love.”

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United States: Religious worker visas backlogged for 10 years

A change in the way visa applications are processed at the State Department has created a 10-year backlog for clergy applying to live and work in the United States. Religious worker applications have been put in the same queue as neglected or abused minors from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Previously, successful applicants received visas in four to six years. The US admits about 6,000 religious workers annually.

United States: Anabaptist insurance company is insolvent

MutualAid eXchange, an insurance company “founded upon the faith-based principles of the Mennonite, Brethren, and related denominations,” has been ordered by a court to liquidate because it cannot meet its financial obligations. The insurance company covered 30,000 auto, home, farm, business, and life insurance policies. According to officials, it ran into trouble trying to cover the increase of claims involving storm damage in the South and Midwest in 2022 and 2023.

Costa Rica: Global Methodists plan first general conference

The Global Methodist Church is planning its first general conference for Costa Rica in September 2024. The denomination, formed out of a split with the United Methodist Church, has about 3,800 congregations in the US, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Spain, and the Philippines. Leaders expect churches from seven more African countries to join soon. There are no Global Methodists in Costa Rica, but the conference will be hosted by the Evangelical Methodist Church, which has about 100 congregations. Beth Ann Cook, a pastor in Poseyville, Indiana, will serve as chair of the inaugural meeting.

Norway: 32 years of Methodist marriages are legally invalid

People married in a Methodist church between 1991 and 2023 are not legally wed, according to the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth, and Families. The denomination changed its liturgy in ’91 and did not get the new version approved. Methodist ministers reportedly performed about 800 weddings before this year’s liturgical update went through the appropriate channels. “I got a bit of a shock,” one Methodist woman said, “because I think we have been married for 30 years.” The church has officially apologized, but some pastors do not seem especially concerned. “I think this whole thing is a big joke,” said a minister in Bergen.

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Germany: Pastor who spoke against war flees Russia

Yury Sipko, a Baptist pastor and previous head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, fled Russia after learning he was under investigation for speaking against the war in Ukraine. Sipko, 71, arrived at one of his daughters’ homes in Germany with nothing but the clothes on this back. “The law makes it a crime to call the war a ‘war’ and does not allow anyone to call for peace in Ukraine,” he said. “But I prayed for peace.”

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