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Died: Dr. John Edmund Haggai, Founder of Haggai International Ministry

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John Edmund Haggai, a preacher and revivalist who saw the need to equip Christians around the world to evangelize their own countries, died Wednesday at 96.

Known for challenging people to “attempt something so great for God, it’s doomed to failure unless God be in it,” Haggai founded Haggai Institute for Advanced Leadership, moved it to Singapore, and trained more than 120,000 evangelists from non-Western countries, including 1,200 from Indonesia, 400 from the Philippines, 500 from India, 400 from Nigeria, and 380 from Brazil. He argued this was the best new strategy for global missions after the end of Western colonialism.

One of his first students was K. P. Yohannan, who went on to found Gospel for Asia.

“Haggai was full of stories,” Yohannan recalled. “In them all, Christians were overcomers and giants—men and women who received a vision from God and refused to let go of it. Diligence to your calling was a virtue to be highly prized. Haggai was the first person who made me believe that nothing is impossible with God.”

Haggai was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1924. His father was a Syrian refugee who had fled Turkish forces in 1912 and was welcomed to the United States. The elder Haggai converted from Eastern Orthodox to evangelical Christianity, enrolled in Moody Bible Institute, and became a Southern Baptist pastor.

The younger Haggai was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps: He accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior at four years old and announced he felt a call to preach at six. A few years later, Haggai said he wanted to be a missionary to China.

Haggai went to Moody like his father and met Christine Barker from Bristol, Virginia, a soprano who sang professionally from the age of 13 and had her own weekly musical program on the radio. She had given up a scholarship at Julliard to attend Moody. Haggai fell in love, and the two got married the day after graduation in 1945.

While the young graduate still dreamed of being a missionary to China, a civil war broke out between nationalists and the Communists, and the Haggais decided to stay in the US. Haggai soon accepted a position pastoring a church in Lancaster, South Carolina. He grew it to about 1,000 members and won praise for record-high Sunday school attendance.

Haggai also started a radio ministry, with a 15-minute weekly program called Crusade for Christ. He got a second degree in history and philosophy at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and started traveling with Youth for Christ.

He was a powerful and popular speaker on the evangelistic circuit. One ad claimed that though only a young man, he “has plumbed the depths of the Bible and emerged with usable answers to many of the problems of our time.” He condemned the moral decline of the era and urged people to turn to the Bible as a guide for life.

In one sermon, he preached that “a million hammers have banged away at the anvil of God’s Word,” and now “the hammers are broken but the anvil remains.”

Haggai did not directly challenge the racism and the segregation of the South, but he occasionally himself ran afoul of the racial codes. In one hotel, he was mistaken for a singer who was supposed to perform. In some parts of the country, ads for his evangelistic crusades spelled out his ethnicity ahead of time.

In 1950, the Haggais had their only son, John Haggai Jr. He suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth, caused by an intoxicated doctor. The couple refused to institutionalize their son, and Christine committed to caring for the boy full time. After Johnny died at 24, Haggai wrote that those his namesake never spoke more than two words at a time, he was convinced his son prayed powerful prayers, trapped inside his broken body.

A few months after Johnny’s birth, the family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Haggai took over as senior pastor at Woodland Park Baptist. His first sermon at the megachurch was titled: “What’s Wrong with Your Church.” He challenged the congregation to live out their faith, witness to their neighbors, and support global missions.

In 1956, Haggai moved to another megachurch in Louisville, Ninth and O Baptist Church. The Sunday school had more than 2,000 regular attenders. He baptized about 420 people his first year and grew the church’s mission class to nearly 1,000. Haggai was asked to speak at the pastor’s conference ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention that year, and decided to preach about what was wrong with preachers.

“God help us to reappraise and to re-emphasize the place of the pulpit in evangelism,” Haggai said. “Revitalized pulpits in our land with the proper emphasis on evangelistic preaching will bring a new day spiritually and socially within our drink-hazed, lust-crazed, gold-glutted borders. Forbid, O God, that we should minimize the place of the pulpit in evangelism.”

The sermon brought him national headlines. “BLAME ON PULPIT,” one said: “Ministers Who Substitute for Gospel Preaching are Scored at Baptist Convention.” Invitations to speak started rolling—more than 700 around the country—and Haggai decided to leave pastoral ministry and become a full-time itinerate evangelist.

After many years supporting mission work and encouraging missionaries, Haggai got his chance to proclaim the gospel abroad in 1964, when he was invited to preach in Lebanon. There, an interaction with Christians in Beirut changed the rest of his career in ministry. He heard some local Christian leaders complaining about missionaries.

“Frankly, it made me angry,” Haggai later recalled. “I knew that missionaries the world over had sacrificed greatly, many giving their lives. How could anyone question the methods of those willing to pay such a high price for their commitment?”

The local leaders told him that Westerners did not cooperate with local Christians and often barred them from leadership positions, even if they had more experience and education than the missionaries. They misunderstood local cultures, causing unnecessary offense, and seemed to the unconverted to represent colonial power rather than the cause of Christ.

“People aren’t rejecting Jesus,” the Lebanese Christians said. “They’re rejecting Western domination.”

Haggai changed his mind.

“It was a significant moment for Dr. Haggai,” said Ebenezer Bittencourt, director of the Haggai Institute in Brazil. “On the plane ride home, he realized that the world was changing and that the strategy for missions and evangelism had to change too.”

He developed his first leadership training institute to “equip and inspire” national leaders in 1969, in Switzerland. The first students were from Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Korea, what was then called Formosa, and Lebanon.

Two years later, with a $500,000 gift and a $130,000 loan from Cecil Day, founder of Days Inn Hotels, Haggai moved the institute to Singapore. On Day’s advice, the board members were all Singaporean, and Haggai was the only teacher with a US passport. The ministry trained evangelists from 189 countries.

“The Haggai Leadership experience, it really changed the way I see the world,” said Josie Ching, a Christian in the Philippines. “I got it, that each of us is a missionary in our right and in the place that God placed us.”

The institute celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, with more than 600 leaders from more than 60 nations. The ministry committed to training 250,000 more leaders in the next decade.

Haggai was preceeded in death by his son, Johnny, who passed in 1964, and his wife, Christine, who passed in 2019. Haggai International is collecting tributes to his life and work from around the world and planning an online memorial service.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against New York’s Restrictions On Religious Gatherings

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The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily barred New York from enforcing strict attendance limits on places of worship in areas designated coronavirus hot spots, in a decision released just before midnight on Wednesday.

The decision marked a major shift for the court, in essence at least a partial reversal of previous rulings, as well as a clear indication of the court’s dramatic move to the right with the addition of new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in place of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Earlier this year, while Ginsburg was still on the court, it was Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the critical fifth vote to uphold a similar order from governors in California and Nevada.

This time, Roberts was in the minority, noting that the New York rules at issue in the case had already been eased.

The newly constituted majority, however, rejected Roberts’ deferential approach, noting that New York could impose the strict orders again at any time.

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the unsigned majority decision said. “Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

The New York rules imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted attendance at religious services in areas classified as “red” or “orange” zones. In red zones, no more than 10 people were permitted to attend each service, and in orange zones, attendance was capped at 25.

Those rules, which the court majority found to be “severe” and “inflexible,” did not apply to retail stores in the same neighborhoods, the decision said. In an “orange” zone, where secular businesses are subject to no attendance cap at all, the discrimination was “even starker,” the court said.

The justices in the majority, in addition to Barrett, were Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch filed an unusually acerbic concurring opinion, blasting not only Governor Cuomo but also Chief Justice Roberts for his earlier opinion in the California and Nevada cases.

Referring to the more lax rules for New York retailers, Gorsuch opined that “at least according to Governor Cuomo, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians,” a reference to acupuncture being unregulated.

And when it came to Roberts, Gorsuch spent several pages accusing him of “rewriting history” in his dissenting opinion on Wednesday and his earlier opinions in the California and Nevada cases.

“In the end,” said Gorsuch, while Roberts and the other dissenters may wish to “stay out of the way” and let state officials and experts deal with the crisis of a pandemic, “we may not shelter in place where the Constitution is under attack.” There is, he wrote, “no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.”

Roberts replied with a slap-down of his own. Quoting from Gorsuch’s acid dismissal of the dissenters’ views, the Chief Justice said he did not regard his dissenting colleagues with such venom: “They simply view the matter differently after careful study and reflecting their best efforts to fulfill their responsibility under the Constitution.”

As to Gorsuch’s concurrence, which, as Roberts put it, “takes aim at my [earlier] concurring opinion,” Gorsuch had engaged in such overkill that he spent “three pages” criticizing one sentence.

And “what did that sentence say?” asked Roberts. “Only that our Constitution principally entrusts the safety and health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the states to guard and protect.”

Those words, said Roberts, “should be uncontroversial, and the Gorsuch concurrence must reach beyond the words themselves to find the target it is looking for.”

That earlier opinion involved rules that were not as strict as the New York rules. The California church limited attendance to 100 people. In buildings with a capacity of 400 or fewer people, capacity was limited to 25%. In Nevada, churches were limited to 50 people.

On Nov. 12, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America asked the court for temporary injunctions against the New York governor’s executive order.

The synagogues said Cuomo’s order “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution” for the uptick in coronavirus cases.

The court granted the temporary injunctive relief until the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in December — and then the Supreme Court as appropriate — can more fully consider the merits of the case. But the majority said that challengers, as of now, have a good chance of prevailing if they get to the Supreme Court again.

It’s unclear how the case will proceed. New York’s Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood recently informed the court that recent changes to the policies in question meant none of the diocese’s churches or the area’s synagogues would any longer be subject to the restrictions.

Cuomo described Wednesday’s decision as a political statement. In his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, he said, “Look, I’m a former altar boy, Catholic, Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, Jesuits at college. So I fully respect religion and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now. But we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time, and that’s the balance we’re trying to hit, especially in this holiday season.”

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Indonesian Terrorist Burns Down Church and Christian Homes, Killing Four

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International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on November 27, an alleged terrorist attacked the Salvation Army’s service post in central Sulawesi, before burning six houses of church members. Four Christians were murdered, with three being butchered.

Around 8 a.m., the Lewonu Lembantongoa Service Post, located in Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, set up as an outreach effort by the Salvation Army in Indonesia (Bala Keselamatan), was attacked by the alleged terrorist.

He set the church on fire, before attacking Captain Arnianto, Mrs. Mpapa, Lieutenant Abram Kako and his wife and burning down six houses of the church members. Out of the four victims, three were hacked to death, while the other was burned.

In the video seen by ICC, the charred victim was pulled from a pile of ruins, with smoke still rising in the background. The fowler position of the body suggests the agony and pain endured by the victim before death.

Lemban Tongoa is located in the forest, where access of information and transportation is limited. ICC will continue to follow up to learn more about the details of the attack. The Salvation Army is asking for prayers “for the family of the victims, for the church, and for the peace of the region.”

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “ICC mourns the death of the Indonesian brothers and sisters who were brutally murdered by the alleged terrorist. We urge the Indonesian government to take necessary measures to hold him accountable and put him to justice. Such senseless act cannot be tolerated in the country that boasts ‘Pancasila,’ the state ideology which promotes religious harmony and tolerance.”

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