Today the church celebrates the Birth of John the Baptist, whom the Moslems call Yahyah, and who has a much-visited tomb in the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The church also prays today for the diocese of Lokoja, Nigeria, which is just south of Abuja, from where 300 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, people who believe girls should not be educated. Most of those girls are still missing. Three hundred girls . . . Lokoja . . . John the Baptist . . . Syria . . . so much need for prayer. . . The reading is from Forward Day by Day.
TUESDAY, June 24 The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 40:11. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
So much of our scripture is violent and distressing, yet there are many passages like this, full of comfort and assurance that the trouble is over. Others might look at it and say, “Your God is violent and terrible, and the reassurances are flat and silly.”
Maybe that’s true. I tend to look at them more as descriptions of how we experience our lives rather than declarations of God’s nature. Our lives are difficult and often catastrophic—earthquakes, malaria, civil wars, and dangerous militias, to name only a few issues—and our lack of control means we blame God for it. But I don’t think God acts that way. And in the face of catastrophe, we say meaningless things: “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s no comfort at all.
Isaiah speaks peace to his people, trying his hardest to take their pain seriously and to offer the truth that everything will be okay in the end. When it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end. That “okayness” might be justice here or it might be eternal life, but this present trouble is not the end of the story.
PRAY for the Diocese of Doko (Lokoja, Nigeria)
Today the Church remembers The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
Ps 85 or 85:7-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Acts 13:14b-26; Luke 1:57-80
From the Kuwait Times:
Sudanese woman may face death for choosing Christianity over Islam
KHARTOUM: A Sudanese court gave a 27- year-old woman until today to abandon her newly adopted Christian faith and return to Islam or face a death sentence, judicial sources said on Monday. Mariam Yahya Ibrahim was charged with apostasy as well as adultery for marrying a Christian man, something prohibited for Muslim women to do and which makes the marriage void. The final ruling will be announced today.
Ibrahim’s case was the first of its kind to be heard in Sudan. Young Sudanese university students have mounted a series of protests near Khartoum University in recent weeks asking for an end to human rights abuses, more freedoms and better social and economic conditions.
The authorities decided on Sunday to close the university indefinitely. Western embassies and Sudanese activists sharply condemned the accusations and called on the Sudanese Islamist-led government to respect freedom of faith. “The details of this case expose the regime’s blatant interference in the personal life of Sudanese citizens,” Sudan Change Now Movement, a youth group, said in a statement.
President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir’s government is facing a huge economic and political challenge after the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which was Sudan’s main source of oil. A decision by Bashir last year to cut subsidies and impose austerity measures prompted violent protests in which dozens were killed and hundreds were injured. — Reuters
My co-Mother-in-Law leaned over and said “I don’t think they could have done this twenty-five years ago.”
I think she’s right. Northwest Florida is still one of the most conservative societies in America, and yet, in spite of all probabilities, we are in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Center, in Niceville, Florida, surrounded by a HUGE and enthusiastic audience, all of whom have shelled out big bucks to hear this talented group out of South Africa.
As soon as we saw the initial ads, AdventureMan marked his calendar, so we could call the very first day tickets were available. I don’t really believe in bucket lists, but I do believe in grabbing an opportunity when it presents itself; we have loved the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mombazo forever.
Last night was a thrill. I was astonished at how wildly enthusiastic the audience was; it was a mix of all walks of the population, academics, retired folk, groups of school children, and . . . fans. Wildly enthusiastic fans. A group knows when it is treasured, and it feeds on the positive response. Ladysmith Black Mombazo thrilled our hearts.
Here is one of my favorites, expecially the introduction:
Thank you, John Mueller, for this fascinating article from Science NOW:
Middle Eastern Virus More Widespread Than Thought
It’s called Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, after the region where almost all the patients have been reported. But the name may turn out to be a misnomer. A new study has found the virus in camels from Sudan and Ethiopia, suggesting that Africa, too, harbors the pathogen. That means MERS may sicken more humans than previously thought—and perhaps be more likely to trigger a pandemic.
MERS has sickened 183 people and killed 80, most of them in Saudi Arabia. A couple of cases have occurred in countries outside the region, such as France and the United Kingdom, but those clusters all started with a patient who had traveled to the Middle East before falling ill.
Scientists have uncovered more and more evidence implicating camels in the spread of the disease. They found that a large percentage of camels in the Middle East have antibodies against MERS in their blood, while other animals, such as goats and sheep, do not. Researchers have also isolated MERS virus RNA from nose swabs of camels in Qatar, and earlier this week, they showed that the virus has circulated in Saudi Arabian camels for at least 2 decades.
Malik Peiris, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues expanded the search to Africa. In a paper published last year, they showed that camels in Egypt carried antibodies against MERS. For the new study, they took samples from four abattoirs around Egypt; again they found antibodies against MERS in the blood of 48 out of 52 camels they tested. But the most interesting results came from taking nose swabs from 110 camels: They found MERS RNA in four animals that had been shipped in from Sudan and Ethiopia.
Peiris cautions that it is unclear whether the infected camels picked up the virus in Sudan and Ethiopia or on their final journey in Egypt. Abattoirs could help spread MERS just like live poultry markets do for influenza, he says. “You cannot point the finger exactly at where those viruses came from,” he says. “But I would be very surprised if you do not find the virus in large parts of Africa.”
If so, that changes the picture of MERS considerably. No human MERS cases have been reported from Egypt or anywhere else in Africa, but if camels are infected, they may well occur, says Marion Koopmans, an infectious disease researcher at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “It would be important to look systematically into that,” she writes in an e-mail. “Health authorities really need to test patients with severe pneumonia all across Africa for MERS,” Peiris says.
The researchers were able to sequence the virus of one of the camels almost completely, and it is more than 99% identical with viruses found in people. “I would be very surprised if this virus cannot infect humans,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany. But the virus also shows a few intriguing differences from known camel samples, he says. “We have to analyze this carefully in the next few days, but it looks like this sequence broadens the viral repertoire found in camels,” he says. If the viruses found in camels show more genetic variation than those isolated from humans, that is further strong evidence that camels are infecting humans and not the other way around.
Anthony Mounts, the point person for MERS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, says that it is very likely that human MERS cases occur in Africa. “Wherever we find [infected] camels, there is a good chance we’ll find [human] cases if we look closely,” he says. And humans may be exposed to camels in Africa much more often than in the Middle East: There were about 260,000 camels in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but almost a million in Ethiopia and 4.8 million in Sudan, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The more human cases there are, the higher the risk that the virus will one day learn how to become easily transmissible between people, which could set off a pandemic.
The researchers also looked at the blood of 179 people working at the camel abattoirs for antibodies against MERS virus, but found none. That shows that the virus is only rarely successful in infecting human beings, Peiris says. “What we need to find out now is the reason for these rare transmissions.”
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