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The Malawian government relies on God against the corona: the beginning of a three-day fasting prayer’



In his second week in office, the new president of Malawi—theologian and former Assemblies of God leader Lazarus Chakwera—has called on the African nation to join in three days of prayer and fasting against the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite the challenges of the current circumstances, with the pandemic taking a significant economic toll on one of the world’s poorest countries, Christians across the region are hopeful about Chakwera’s leadership.

He pledged in his inauguration speech: “With your help we will restore faith in having a government that serves; not a government that rules, a government that inspires, not a government that infuriates, a government that listens, not a government that shouts but a government that fights for you and not against you.”

The pastor spent more than 20 years as the head of one of the country’s largest denominations, the Assemblies of God, before he entered politics as the Malawi Congress Party leader in 2013. In the presidential election held last month, following more than a year of political protests, Chakwera won with 58 percent of the vote. It was the first time in Africa that a court-overturned vote resulted in the defeat of an incumbent president.

Describing his political ambitions as a divine calling, Chakwera said, “God spoke to my heart…. He said, ‘I am not pulling you out of ministry. Instead I am extending your ministry. I want you to get into politics.’”

The new president has repeatedly targeted the corruption, nepotism, and injustice that has plagued his country and said he wants to work for economic progress that allows everyone to prosper.

“Christians dream for a better country and an improved leadership,” said Matilda Matabwa, secretary general of the Malawian Assemblies of God. “We expect to see and experience the birth of a new nation, and are excited to have a highly respected man of God as the head of state.”

The 65-year-old leader had trained with the ministry Haggai International, attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and worked in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose president Franklin Graham congratulated him on Twitter.

Chakwera taught at the Pan African Theological Seminary and the Assemblies of God School of Theology, where he also served as chair. Over 80 percent of the population in Malawi is Christian.

Christian leaders in Kenya have also voiced their support, according to a report by Nairobi-based reporter Tom Osanjo for Religion Unplugged.

Edward Munene, head of the International Christian Center in Mombasa, called Chakwera a “focused, wise, eloquent and godly man,” and said, “I believe he will lead this nation as a leader of integrity, leading with wisdom and the humility to take Malawi forward.”

Leo Kinuthia, a pastor with the International Christian Centre Nairobi, a Kenyan Assemblies of God church, said “the Malawians have spoken clearly and loudly” by electing Chakwera, and “may Africa learn from you what it means to lead with a servant’s heart.”

This week, Agenzia Fides reported that Chakwera asked for prayers “for the healing of those affected by the virus; for the protection and support of frontline health workers in the struggle; for the protection and zeal of those who have not contracted the virus.”

The three days of prayer and fasting conclude Sunday with a national Day of Thanksgiving.


UAE suspends visa-free travel agreement with Israel until July



The United Arab Emirates has suspended an agreement to inaugurate visa-free travel for Israelis to the Gulf country until July 1, citing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Until then, Israeli citizens seeking to travel to the UAE will need to obtain a visa, as will UAE citizens seeking to travel to Israel, the ministry said on Monday. The UAE has taken a similar step regarding travel from most European countries, as well as India and Pakistan, the Israeli ministry said.

Israel is in its third lockdown and discussing the possibility of extending it beyond Jan. 21 as the number of new cases remains high.

The UAE ratified the agreement on visa-free travel with Israel last week and it was set to go into effect 30 days from then. The agreement follows a normalization accord between the countries signed in September.

The announcement of the suspension comes a day after Israel’s cabinet voted to require all people returning from the UAE and Brazil to quarantine in government-run hotels. A similar decision made previously regarding travelers returning from South Africa and Zambia was extended for 10 days.

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Christian Group in India Documents 327 Incidents of Persecution in 2020



India – According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), Indian Christians endured at least 327 incidents of persecution in 2020. This was despite the fact that most of India’s population lived under locked down conditions for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to EFI, 327 cases of persecution were documented in 2020. At least five Christians were murdered and six churches were burnt or demolished in religiously motivated attacks. In addition, EFI noted 26 incidents of social boycotts where Christian communities were shunned by their non-Christian neighbors due to their religious identity.

EFI’s report documents the continuation of an ongoing trend of growing religious intolerance and violence in India. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took political power in 2014, incidents of Christian persecution documented by EFI have more than doubled. In 2014, the year the BJP rose to political power, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks on Indian Christians. In 2019, after five years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 366 violent attacks.

The incidents documented by EFI likely represent only a portion of the violence experienced by India’s Christian community. Most incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisal and lack of confidence in India’s justice system.

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