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ER=Emergency relief

"ER=Emergency relief" Continued...

Issue: "Supreme warning," July 5, 2003

"We continue to debate among ourselves how we will be both relevant and sensitive to the culture," said Mr. Duss, "and at the same time true to why we exist, which is to love God and love our neighbor."

Samaritan's Purse pressed forward with plans for Iraq because it, like others, already has overcome daunting barriers to entry elsewhere. Mr. Graham distributed over a million shoeboxes to Muslim children in Bosnia during its civil war. His medical teams set up field hospitals in war-torn Somalia, also Muslim. They have worked in Sudan long enough to have their own hospital bombed by the Islamic government-and to be invited last Christmas by a minister of the same government to give out shoeboxes to children in Khartoum.

Most humanitarian aid groups recognize that they must succeed visibly to further good will with donors. At the same time, the hostility of Muslim-dominated governments toward religious freedom-even before 9/11 but now more so-makes it important to blend in. Time magazine tried to crack that enigma in a long-awaited cover story, "Should Christians Convert Muslims?" in its June 30 issue. The extensive coverage soured many relief workers and missionaries even before it was written. Christian workers shied from speaking to Time after they saw a four-page internal planning memo written by New York editor Amanda Bower.

"We are planning a major piece on the flood of Christian missionaries, most of them evangelical, to Muslim countries," she wrote bureau chiefs around the world. "The trend," she said, "began about a decade ago."

In addition to challenging her history (Mr. Dagher, for instance, presides in Lebanon over a Christian and Missionary Alliance work begun in 1890), Christian workers were alarmed by her terminology. The story, she said, would narrow its focus to "a more radical crew of proselytizers, those who proclaim the gospel of Christ, even if that means risking deportation, imprisonment, or death." The memo contained repeated references to pinpointing these "hard-core Evangelicals."

After the memo was spammed to the missionary world, many Christian workers refused to cooperate with head writer David Van Diema, prompting delays and a final story heavier on the ongoing debate than day-to-day interaction between Christians and Muslims, the kind of encounter witnessed by Mr. Dagher and the Samaritan's Purse team last week.

Mr. Graham has since April refused numerous requests for interviews, keeping to a previous schedule that includes evangelistic meetings with his father, and perhaps for now fewer trips to Muslim countries. He says opinion pieces he wrote for The New York Times in 2001 and the Los Angeles Times this past April "reflect my views" and he has no intention of "adding to them"-borrowing a cue from one of his favorite legends, missionary David Livingstone, who said: "I'm willing to go anywhere, provided it is forward." c

-with reporting by Bob Jones in Baghdad

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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