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"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be
to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot
WOW! It's June again! And we're "starting over" by building on what is now in place.
THE PAST: It's been 15 years since I sat behind this desk in an empty office inVirginia and asked myself, "Now what, Sam?" I had no staff, budget, plan or mailing list. Bobby and I had two kids in high school, Monica and Ryan, who would soon start college. Four months earlier, I had invited to the USA Nick Vyssotski, the 19-year-old son of a Russian Orthodox human rights lawyer and widow, Natalya Vyssotskaya, promising to put him through a Christian college. It was the first and last time I've made that offer.
I finished my ten years at Christian Legal Society on May 31, 1991. A 12-day visit to Moscow in January 1991 changed me forever. I'll never forget the Sunday morning service at a small Baptist Church on the outskirts of Moscow. It was below freezing outside, but inside it was warm and packed. The average age was over 65, with women outnumbering men five to one, and old folks outnumbering young people ten to one.
The first song they sang was What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I knew the first verse well enough to sing it five times - in English. When they sang the old Swedish hymn, How Great Thou Art, I could sing along as well. Lynn Buzzard, a pastor and law professor - who has served as Advocates' Board Chairman for five years - preached.
As I compared the freedoms we take for granted in the USA to what the Russian Baptists had to wrestle with, I felt the gentle finger of God poking me: "Do something, Sam." The lack of freedoms under communism were driven by spiritual, social, political and, definitely, legal factors. After 20 years active in church-state issues at the local, state and national levels in America , I knew that Russian Christian lawyers held an important key to opening the windows of religious freedom and keeping them open.
But I had no idea what to do or how to do it. Bobby had savings from her home-based business where she had taught over 1,200 folks in our kitchen how to grind grain and make great bread using Bosch kitchen equipment. Bobby has the "gift of earning" to balance my "gift of giving." She earns it. I give it away. It took about three years to draw my first paycheck, while Bobby, literally, put bread on the table. She also provided the bread to finance what would become Advocates International.
Can a woman baking bread in her kitchen impact the world? Absolutely! Advocates International could not have been launched without Bobby. In 1992, Hillary Clinton quipped that as First Lady, she would not be baking cookies in the White House. There's no doubt that Bobby's baking has had a far greater global impact than Hillary's politics.
On June 20, 1991, Roger Sherrard, a CLS member in Poulsbo, Washington, called to ask if I could go to Sofia, Bulgaria, to meet a law school dean. In jest I asked, "Roger, who wants to go to Sofia, Bulgaria? Why not Paris, Bermuda or the Bahamas?" The next day I received a call from a total stranger in Pasadena, California, inviting me to visit Sofia to meet the president of the bar association. We soon discovered that 39 years earlier the caller's mother and my father had worked in the same office in Stockholm, Sweden! His-Story!! The back-to-back phone calls prompted Roger and me to visit Sofia in July 1991. We've each returned to the Balkans over 30 times. I have also traveled a million miles to 50 nations on five continents challenging lawyers to meet and work together for the cause of Christ.
THE PRESENT: In 1991 there were fewer than ten nations with Christian lawyer groups. Only two were proactively engaged in the public square addressing legal issues facing believers. Today there are 100 active or emerging national Christian lawyer groups promoting religious freedom, legal aid, conflict resolution and ethics. In several nations, Advocates provided seed money to launch a national group. Two recent reports from Uganda and Mongolia show the fruit from those investments. They also underscore the never-ending battles facing believers in doing justice with compassion.
Until our first Global Convocation in 1998, when ten lawyers from six African nations formed the African Christian Lawyers Network, there had been no networks enabling Christian lawyers to work together regionally. Today, networks such as Advocates Africa, Advocates Asia, Advocates Europe, Advocates Latin Americaand Advocates North America enable lawyers from 135 nations to impact their continents.
THE FUTURE: Last month I shared how our home office with 3 full-time staff facilitates a global network linking thousands of lawyers on six continents. Facilitate means to make things easier. It does not mean doing the work others have been called to do. We seek to "bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
Our website www.advocatesinternational.org states our mission and method: Bearing witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession by encouraging and enabling advocates to meet locally, organize nationally, cooperate regionally and link globally. It's not complicated. It's rooted in Jesus' final words to his disciples before His ascension as recorded in Acts 1:8. No more important final words were ever spoken. It's a mandate!
In June 1991, the world's problems seemed simpler and more manageable than today. The Evil Empire had a capital with a cadre of diplomats. There were rules of engagement. Today those rules no longer apply. Fifteen years after Advocates' launch, we have arrived where we started and "know the place for the first time."
We're "starting over" more confident than ever that Jesus Christ will continue to empower us as he promised. We have 15 years of lessons learned, ground gained and friendships formed. We invite you to give thanks to The One who has empowered Advocates International for 15 years and "start over" with us to be His witnesses, while...
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President
Report on the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity
Annual Conference May 2006
"Integrity at work, Integrity at home - A lawyer's unattainable dream?"
THANK YOU: Firstly, we as Board and Staff say a massive thank you to all who made this conference the success it was. It was pleasing to hear a number of the attendees comment at the end that this was the best conference that UCLF had done, but more importantly we hope that the challenges that were placed before us by the speakers will move us on to greater things for the Kingdom.
Sixty-five of us met at the Ridar Hotel just outside Kampala . We all enjoyed a full programme (and we mean full - cutting down eating time is never fun but it had to be done!). We had a number of talks from speakers on the theme of the day, times for group discussion and feedback, times for fellowship and an Annual General Meeting (AGM). What was clear by the end of the day was that in order for us to make a difference in our profession as Christian Lawyers, we have to make a stand for Integrity in every area of our lives.
SERVING OUR LORD WITH INTEGRITY: The opening Bible study was from 1 Peter 3:8-17. We explored the attributes we should ALL have (including lawyers) as Christians, and how we must set apart Christ as Lord. Making anything else as Lord was the first step to losing our capacity for Integrity. When we are unashamed of Our Lord, then we can begin to lead lives worthy of Him and which will allow us to practice Integrity in every aspect of our lives. This doesn't mean that life will be easy, and may lead to suffering, but retaining a clear conscience will not be in vain.
We were extremely privileged to have Solomon Ossiya as our main morning speaker. He is the Programme Director of the DANIDA anti-corruption department. A committed Christian, he is known for his outspoken views on corruption and how we need to stand out against this in all areas. Bayo Akinlade commented that he hadn't heard such a straightforward, hard-hitting and uncompromising talk on the subject for years (if ever!). Starting off by equating corruption to theft Solomon took us through the theories, the practices, the statutes and the strategies for tackling this pandemic, tying it all up in the Biblical call for Integrity and justice in the first Chapter of Isaiah.
THE APPLICATION: The challenge of the talk was to tackle the problem. So we all broke up into small groups and discussed ways in which we could practically do that. Lawyers shared personal experiences and ways in which they have faced tough challenges and hard calls in the past. This was an amazing time of sharing the issues that we all face as Christian lawyers, and that we aren't alone in treading that difficult path of Integrity.
A JUSTICE SPEAKS ABOUT INTEGRITY: After lunch it was our privilege to welcome the Vice President of Advocates Africa, Rose Mbah Acha, to speak to us. Her commitment to travel all the way from Cameroon to be with us was amazing. Despite a night flight she managed to inspire us with her talk on the "Need for Integrity in the Legal Profession". As a Judge in Cameroon she was able to draw upon personal experiences as well as her Christian faith to remind us of the need to maintain those qualities of honesty, truthfulness and high moral standing.
THE POOR: Our next session dealt with the issue of our Integrity to the poor. Steve Sanderson led us in a walk through the Bible on the question of what it was to have and gain respect. As lawyers we tend to like shiny shoes and big cars to gain respect. But Biblically Paul sought to commend himself in a totally different way (2 Cor 6: 3-11). The challenge as lawyers dedicated to Christ and His justice was how are we seeking to present our credentials. Are we concerned with the poor, the widow and the orphan, or are we concerned about other things? Anthony Kakooza then spoke on his involvement with pro bono work and the clients he deals with and the challenges and privileges this brings.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Again the challenge was how to act, and the conference attendees then spent time challenging each other and sharing with each other how they had and wanted to make a difference for Christ within their profession.
REPORTING ON THE GREAT WORK DONE: The end of the day brought to us the business of the AGM. Edward Sekabanja chaired the meeting as Mike Chibita, after 9 years as President, has decided to step down from the board of UCLF to make way for new blood. He will continue to remain committed to UCLF but felt that it was important for him to retire from the Board and let others take on the role he has faithfully maintained. He was roundly appreciated for all his commitment and hard work over these past years. Reports were heard from all three departments of UCLF. The Legal Aid department has established a significant work over the last 9 months, having taken on 71 clients, providing advice and representation. They have also started work at Kigo prison taking on 20 clients at a time. This work is very much needed as over 640 prisoners are there on remand without legal help - some having been held for over 5 years without trial. The Legal Education department in the last 6 months has been able to teach over 2,000 men, women and children on their rights and Christ's love for justice and for them. The Admin department is trying to come to terms with a larger staff, the greater demands of the project, and the new accountancy procedures but wanted to express gratitude to the members, donors and supporters who have helped more than quadruple the income of UCLF in this last year. We really thank God for this, but the need continues to grow.
THE CHALLENGE: Edward challenged us that we are the backbone of UCLF and that the Christian lawyers who hadn't been able to attend needed to continue to be encouraged to take part. Everyone needs to contribute to the finances and volunteer their time and energies for the education program and the legal aid project. It was clear that some of the more mature members needed to be reawakened in their commitment and service.
NEW LEADERSHIP: In light of Mike's retirement and also Eva Mudondo's departure to the United States to do an MBA in Dallas, two places on the Board were free. To unanimous votes Martin Erone and Aissta Sylla were elected. It was agreed to allow the Board to decide who from their numbers would replace Mike as President. It was also agreed that an ex offico student member of the Board should be elected and sit for a term of one year. Amboko Wameyo, a third year student from Makerere, was elected.
CLOSING WORDS: The day was finished off with words from James Mutoigo, a member of the Board who had seen things grow from small beginnings into something new. He challenged us to remain faithful to the calling Christ had placed on our lives and to continue to support the work and outreach of UCLF.
Email received on June 1, 2006, to Sam Ericsson from Baasankhuu Octyabri,
Director of the Rule of Law Institute in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Greeting you from Mongolia ,
I am really happy to share great news from Mongolia. You may recall from our previous discussions on religious freedom that situations related to religious practices in TuvProvince are really complicated.
Last week, there was a libel trial, instigated by a pastor in Tuv province protecting his religious rights. Tsogzolmaa, a Christian lawyer, was representing the pastor. The court took the case very seriously and decided that the Citizens Representative Meeting of Tuv Province actually rudely violated freedom of religion.
The decision is a very big VICTORY for all of the Christians!!! May praise be to the Lord! Amen! But the enemy is still trying its best to make us fail, therefore we constantly need to be active both in spiritual and professional fields.
On the 6th of June, officials from the United States Embassy will visit Tuv to investigate the religious freedom situation. At that time they will meet also with the pastors. But on 28th June, the Citizens Representatives Meeting will call a meeting to give a decision about the registration of the Christian churches. If they give an approving decision, this will be the first decision granting registration in the last 16 years in that province. Therefore we need your prayers and ask you to lift this issue up to the Lord!
On the 1st of June, I visited Batsumber in TuvProvince located 140km away from the capital city. In that place, the smallest territorial unit of the administration, the mayor of that unit gave an order to confiscate the properties of the Christian church. I met the mayor and ultimately told him about the court decision and the meeting scheduled to take place on 28th June. He responded that if Citizens Representative Hural decides to approve registration of the churches, he will reconsider his decision.
He has been trying to defend his decision by saying the following: Since there was a warning from a higher authority that Christian churches may adversely affect the reputation of Buddhism by gaining the attention of more local residents, allowing construction work of such a big church may be dangerous. His entire defense was really absurd! But at the moment we are waiting for this decision to be rendered on 28th June. Until then we strongly call everyone to lift up this prayer request to the Lord: that all the Christian churches will have registration and this mayor will invalidate his prior decision terminating construction of the church.
Let's pray, and I really believe that only God's wisdom, strength and guidance can bring a victory!!!
God bless you,
The Rule of Law Institute of Mongolia Report on
Religious Liberties for the Second Quarter of 2006
I am greeting you all in the name of Jesus. I am glad to have this chance to forward our next report on religious liberties.
1. On May 18, I met with the 1st Secretary of the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar and handed him a detailed review on the religious liberties situation in Mongolia. I was called to this meeting because of the Annual Report on Religious Liberties prepared by the Government of Mongolia which is submitted to the US Embassy every year.
The meeting was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere and lasted 1 hour. I described in detail the Institute's activities in the field of religious liberties for the past 3 years. I also explained the difficulties because of the current political situation and its negative attitude toward religious institutions, churches, restraints faced by missionaries, problems with visas, permits, renewals, extensions and licenses.
I advised that before making their Final Report it is better to meet with representatives of local religious Institutions and churches and listen to their opinion in order to find the true state of things. I supplied the contact numbers and addresses of the religious organizations to make the survey easier. The US Embassy authorities have promised to meet them and complete the survey.
2. On May 12, the Institute organized a legal education program for local pastors working in rural areas. Surveys indicate that registration of churches remains as difficult in the countryside as in Ulaanbaatar. To say it gently, local governments do not support local Christian churches. The number of Christian churches is growing, making local authorities not too much happy with that. Please keep praying for the benefit of local churches.
3. In February the Institute made its brave decision to invite the UN Commissioner for religious liberty to Mongolia. We will explain the mess we have over here. Dr. Edvin Berry of the UN Human Rights Commission represents the UN in Mongolia. He supports us and gives us his precious advice. The reason for the invitation is that as of February 2006 there were 29 churches whose registrations were rejected without proper grounds. Ten others passed through 5 stages of bureaucratic requirements. They are absolutely eligible but their legal standing was denied and their cases rejected without any reason. Therefore the Institute has initiated a thorough survey of religious liberty. The survey will cover 50 religious institutions such as Christian, Buddhist, Shaman, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Bahai and Latter Day Saints (Mormon).
The results of the survey were reported at meetings with the authorities responsible for these issues. I met with representatives of the President's Administration and discussed the survey results. At the time of the meeting things were politically unstable in Mongolia. The opposition parties are strongly protesting against the current Government, and the instability seems to take a long time. The President's Administration wants to maintain peace and public order. They advised us not to make any reports on Religious Liberties until the political situation has normalized. Some opposition parties may take advantage of the current situation and create public disorder. The Institute finds some of their arguments reasonable, and we agreed on some points. Maintaining public order is everyone's duty. The President's Administration promised to find ways to resolve the problems with local governments in rural areas and to help local churches get registered.
The promise was implemented on 2nd May. As a result all the churches were reinstated, and the term of registration was prolonged. In addition, another 10 new churches were legally registered as well. Here we say "Let the Glory be all the Lord's!" However, having this issue resolved positively there are still many other problems remaining not solved. So there is no time to relax. The Institute is full of efforts to work much more. God Bless you and all. Baasankhuu