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May 10, 1999
Are you ready for some good news? May 5 was a very special day for all those concerned about religious freedom around the world. Mr. Robert Seiple, the former President of World Vision, was sworn in as America's first Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Ambassador Seiple has already had a significant impact this past year as Special Representative for Religious Liberty to the Secretary of State. In his remarks at the swearing-in ceremonies, he stressed the need for religious liberty, justice and reconciliation --- the three prongs of Advocates' mission statement. He needs and deserves our prayers and support.
The enclosed "Progress Report on Religious Freedom" provides some more good news. It shows how far we've come since the 1980's. Christ said, "the gates of Hell will not prevail against the building of my Church." Even though evil men may try to crush it, the Church will survive and grow. Admittedly, it is difficult to see progress when we are inundated daily by the "bad news" in the media. A lesson learned over the past decade is that if we stay the course and do not grow weary when things appear to regress then we will succeed. I have never been more encouraged or more convinced of God's sovereignty over world affairs.
We thank you for your prayers and support as we continue. . .
Living in His-story,
Samuel E. Ericsson,
P.S. The costs to Advocates to deliver legal services around the globe through national "innkeepers" range from $15 per day/$75 per week/$300 per month in Mongolia to $60 per day/$300 per week/$1250 per month in Bulgaria. As you will see from the enclosed report, you can't find a better investment. How many days, weeks, or months of advocacy for religious liberty, justice and reconciliation are you able to underwrite?
May 7, 1999
Dr. Ye Xiao Wen, Director General
Bureau of Religious Affairs
The People's Republic of China
Dear Dr. Ye,
Greetings. We hope that you, your family and staff are doing well. This week several major U.S. newspapers carried a brief story concerning an incident in Henan. The Washington Times story of Tuesday, May 4, page A19, reads,
Chinese Police Break Up Church Service
Beijing - Police busted up a church service on April 25 in Henan province in central China and detained all 25 worshipers in the latest raid on Protestants worshiping outside state-controlled churches, a human rights group reported. Fifteen worshipers are still in detention, the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported.
Since Advocates has a reputation for accurate and balanced information on religious liberty matters in China, it would be helpful if you could explain this incident to us. It appears to be in conflict with the October 16, 1997 China State Council report on religious freedom in China as it relates to house services. Perhaps this is another example of local officials who have been too zealous and thereby violated your national policy.
As you know, the Normal Trade Relations (formerly called Most Favored Nation) issue will be addressed this summer and voted on in September. It would be helpful for us to have accurate information on any troublesome news reports.
Finally, I hope to visit Beijing some time between June 22 and July 2. I also plan to visit Vietnam, Mongolia, and Korea on this trip. It would therefore be helpful to know which dates would be most convenient for me to be in Beijing to visit you. Please let me know soon. We are making plane reservations in the next few days.
Samuel E. Ericsson
cc: Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, U.S. State Dept.
John Langlois, Deputy in Parliament, Isle of Guernsey, Advocates' Chairman
Friends of Advocates International
A Progress Report on Religious Freedom:
Snapshots a Decade After the Fall of the Wall
by Samuel E. Ericsson
If you rolled back the clock to the 1980's and listed the regimes most hostile to religious freedom outside the Moslem world, the nations that would rank high on any list would include Albania, Bulgaria, China, Mongolia and Nepal. Although challenges remain in each of these countries, no one can deny that the progress made since the 1980's has been substantial. Sadly, the barrage of bad news reported daily in the media often buries the horrific realities of the past and overshadows the real progress since the 1980's. Consider the following snapshots from nations where Advocates has been active this decade. We've come a long way since the summer of 1989 --- just before the Fall of the Wall.
"We have never had more religious freedom
than we have now in Bulgaria."
Latcho Popov, Director, Rule of Law Institute
Easter Sunday, 1999 in Sofia, Bulgaria
In 1989 Latcho Popov was still denied a license to practice law in Bulgaria because he refused to join the Communist Party or get the requisite Party endorsements. For 12 years his only option had been to work as an unlicensed lawyer in several government agencies. It was not until he became the Director of Advocates' Rule of Law Institute that he discovered how invaluable his government experience would prove to be as an advocate for religious liberty, justice and reconciliation. Nor could he know in the late 1970's the importance of the relationships he developed at Sofia University. They would include the future Ambassadors to the U.S., the U.N., the Minister of Justice, a Justice to the European Court of Justice and the Chairperson of Parliament's Commission on Religion.
By 1999 Latcho was the Director of Bulgaria's Rule of Law Institute, which Advocates founded to encourage and enable lawyers to promote religious liberty, justice, conflict resolution and professional ethics. The Institute has become the second largest law group in Bulgaria with a network of 100 lawyers and chapters in six cities. It is the largest active national group of Christian law professionals on the continent. By 1999 they were engaged in over 20 special projects including prison reform, family law, media law and mediation training.
In 1989 the Jesus film had not been translated into Bulgarian and Campus Crusade, like all other evangelical ministries, could not register or operate officially in Bulgaria.
By 1999, thanks to Latcho and the Rule of Law Institute, Campus Crusade and many other ministries and denominations had been registered. As a result, during the Easter 1999 season, posters advertising the Jesus film were seen throughout Sofia and elsewhere in Bulgaria --- a nation often referred to in the 1980's as the "16th Soviet Republic" because of its harsh allegiance to the Soviet Union.
In 1989 the Bulgarian government still controlled hundreds of properties worth untold millions of dollars that had been confiscated by the State from churches, their schools, seminaries and orphanages during the 45-year reign of communism.
By 1999, through the efforts of Latcho and other Rule of Law Institute members, many of these properties had been returned. In April 1999, Latcho got the courts, with the help of the Director of Religious Affairs, to return valuable property belonging to a Baptist orphanage that had been confiscated by the State.
In 1989 Nick Nadelchev helped pastor a Baptist church in Sofia with his father-in-law. Nick had also spearheaded the Bible training programs for pastors and others during the dark days of the 1980's. Most of the training was done "underground" for fear of State reprisals. In the early 1990's Nick helped launch the Bulgarian Biblical Academy but once again the government sought to confiscate these facilities for allegedly failing to conform to certain registration requirements.
By 1999 the Bible Academy had been re-registered and the cloud on the title to the properties cleared thanks to Latcho and the Rule of Law Institute. In the fall of 1999, the Theological Evangelical Seminary of Bulgaria, directed by Nick, will welcome its first seminarians to be taught in the Bible Academy facilities.
In 1989 Pastor Christo Kulicev had just returned to his home in Sofia after serving seven years in prison and exile for his faith. One Sunday in 1981, the secret police had marched into the First Evangelical Congregational Church and arrested Pastor Kulicev installing their own puppet as pastor. After his return from prison Pastor Kulicev could only meet with a small remnant of his faithful church members in an old dingy labor union assembly hall. The pastor installed by the secret police refused to return the church properties.
By 1999 Pastor Kulicev was back in his pulpit and was President of a vibrant and growing Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance. Through his efforts and those of Advocates and the Rule of Law Institute, the church properties were finally returned to the congregation. Today 700 people worship weekly and are engaged in a host of ministries in the center of Sofia.
In 1989 the Bulgarian Directorate of Religious Affairs was unbearably hostile to the religious freedom of minority faiths, particularly evangelicals.
By 1999 as evidence of the effectiveness of building relationships and using a servant leadership approach, Latcho and Advocates were able to offer to help address the concerns of the Director of Religious Affairs about several "inaccuracies" in the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Bulgaria.
In 1989 Atheism was the official religion of one nation in the world, Albania. During the 1980's merely possessing a Bible, a cross or crucifix could mean a ten year prison term.
By 1999 Albania had adopted a new Constitution with strong religious freedom guarantees on which Advocates had given input. At a meeting in April, 1999 in Washington, DC, Albania's President Rexhep Meidani told a group of Americans and Albanian officials that one of the key guiding principles that he had learned from Advocates was: "Invoked or not invoked, God is present." He stressed the need to build strong civil and spiritual institutions, alongside political and economic ones in the Balkans. A central theme of his Inaugural Speech was reconciliation. Using Advocates' materials, he encouraged all religious and ethnic groups to put the Golden Rule into practice. In sum, religious freedom has never been better in Albania than today - unthinkable in the 1980's.
In 1989 there were no known Mongolian national Christians, no churches, and no religious freedom.
By 1999 Mongolia had a Constitution with strong religious freedom guarantees, 15,000 to 50,000 believers, and scores of churches. An estimated one million Mongolians had seen the Jesus film. In 1998, Advocates co-sponsored the first religious tolerance conference ever held in Mongolia. By 1999 the Rule of Law Institute in Mongolia reported that there were at least 16 Christian lawyers in their network. Through their efforts, a $39,000 fine against the Union Bible Training Center was canceled and the ministry reregistered.
In 1989 apartheid was the law in South Africa. Interracial professional activities were unthinkable.
By 1999 the Christian Lawyers Association of South Africa was co-sponsoring with Peacemakers Ministries and Advocates International the first conference on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution inviting Christian lawyers from throughout Africa as colleagues and participants. A "trial run" conference by these three groups in Zambia in 1998 had been very successful.
In 1989 under the Nepalese Constitution, Hinduism was the official religion of Nepal. To convert to Christianity was punishable by one year, baptism by three years, and evangelism by six years in prison.
By 1999 the evangelical alliance and other ministries were legally registered. There are now an estimated 1,800 churches and 300,000 believers. The aforementioned laws and punishments are not being enforced. Advocates' Golden Rule Society has had a role in addressing several religious liberty and justice issues.
In 1989 there were no known lawyers in Romania who openly professed to be Christian because Christians were not allowed to practice law.
By 1999 plans are under way for a conference for 20-30 Christian lawyers to be convened in August 1999.
In 1989 there were an estimated 10-15 million believers in China, up from about two million in 1980.
By 1999 there were an estimated 50-70 million believers in China, 10,000 "official" places of worship (plus far more "unofficial" ones), and tens of millions of Bibles in circulation. In October 1997 China's State Council issued a "policy clarification" that home Bible studies and prayer groups are protected and need not register. We can't think of many rights that are more crucial than the right for believers to meet in their homes for fellowship free from police harassment.
In 1989 there were no Western style graduate-level law schools in China.
By 1999 China planned to open its first graduate level law school that will teach Rule of Law and related topics as China transitions to an open society. Advocates is providing law books for this new school.
In 1989 there was no international network of Christian law professionals working relationally, professionally and spiritually to promote religious liberty, human rights, justice, reconciliation, conflict resolution and professional ethics.
By 1999 Advocates International had developed relationships on every continent and planned to bring together for its 1999 Convocation over 100 judges, lawyers, and related professionals from 50 nations in order to encourage and enable national "innkeepers" to promote the practical lessons from the Good Samaritan parable. In addition, in 1999 Advocates will co-host seminars, symposia and conferences on conflict resolution, religious freedom, and ethics in South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia and Korea.
In 1989 there was minimal concern and commitment by the U.S. State Department to religious freedom issues worldwide.
By 1999 the U.S. Congress had passed the International Religious Freedom Act establishing a nine-member Commission to oversee religious freedom issues. On May 5, 1999, Robert Seiple, former President of World Vision and Eastern College, was sworn in as the first Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.