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Local connections

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Issue: "Tick, tick, tick ...," May 7, 2011

As nations and aid agencies continued to dispatch cargo planes full of critical supplies to tsunami-stricken Japan, some of the most effective aid deliveries continued to come from small, local groups with connections to local communities. An example: In the town of Iwaki-a coastal community decimated by the March 11 quake and tsunami-the first floor of the Global Mission Chapel is full of food, water, boots, diapers, clothing, and other relief supplies.

Pastor Akira Mori and church members distribute donated items to evacuation centers around the region, but the congregation also reports reaching unreached communities. When Mori saw a report on the 9:30 p.m. news describing local nursing home patients stranded without help, the pastor says: "By 11:15 we were at the nursing home with a truck full of supplies." When the pastor heard about 20 evacuees huddled in a laundromat without electricity, food, or water, the church dispatched more supplies.

Some of the aid is less tangible but still important for survivors of trauma. Mori says church members visit evacuation centers, washing the feet of survivors, and listening to their experiences of loss and bereavement: "That is very important for their emotional recovery." Other pastors and missionaries are reporting regular opportunities to provide spiritual care to a country with deep needs: Less than 2 percent Japan's population embraces Christianity. -with reporting by Greg Thompson

Nigerian unrest

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Churches burned and rioters clashed in northern Nigeria after President Goodluck Jonathan won a bid to retain the presidency of the fragile nation on April 19. The Christian leader from Nigeria's predominantly Christian south defeated Muhammadu Buhari from the mostly Muslim north-with nearly 60 percent of the votes.

Election observers reported that the contest appeared to be one of the most credible elections in the country in decades. But Buhari's political party disputed the results, and clashes erupted across the north. Witnesses said that rioters burned homes and churches and that youth clashed with the military. The Red Cross reported that nearly 16,000 Nigerians had fled the northern violence. Jonathan-who first assumed the presidency last year after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua-urged calm: "No one's political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian."

Libyan slaughter

Nearly two months after fighting erupted in Libya, the western town of Misrata became a centerpiece of the bloody battle in mid-April. Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi bombarded the strategic rebel stronghold with rocket launchers and cluster munitions. Close-hand combat also resulted in the death of civilians, including American photographer Chris Hondros and British born Tim Hetherington, who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) managed to evacuate several thousand migrant workers by boat, but the rescue was limited: IOM workers transported the migrants to Benghazi, another Libyan city. From camps in the rebel-held Benghazi, evacuees described mass civilian murders, corpses piling up in the streets, and little food and water left for survivors. IOM workers said they would try to evacuate more of the 6,000 migrants camped in the open near Misrata's port, but the worsening violence was closing the window for rescues.

Motherhood 2011

As Mother's Day (kids, it's May 8) approaches, motherhood in the United States continues to change. While fewer women are having children, a larger number of children are living with single mothers.

82 percent Percentage of women 40 to 44 who had given birth as of 2008. In 1976, 90 percent of women in that age group had given birth

71 Number of births in the past year per 1,000 women 15 to 50 with a graduate or professional degree. These women have a higher fertility rate than those with any other level of education

9.9 million Number of single mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2010, up from 3.4 million in 1970

5.6 million Number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2007

38 percent Of the 4 million women 15 to 44 years old who had a birth in the last year, 1.5 million (38 percent) were to women who were not married, separated, or married but with an absent spouse. Of those 1.5 million mothers, 425,000 were living with a cohabiting partner

32.6 Number of twin births per 1,000 total births in 2008, the highest rate on record

Sources: Census Bureau; National Center for Health Statistics

Prayer day preserved

Secularists can't challenge the National Day of Prayer, a federal court ruled on April 14. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the practice, a tradition since the nation's founding, claiming the statute violated the Constitution by establishing religion. Last April, District Court Judge Barbara Crabb declared the day of prayer unconstitutional. But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals now says that the plaintiffs have not suffered injury, a requirement for challenging the statute, since it "imposes duties on the president," not the plaintiffs: "If anyone suffers injury, therefore, that person is the President, who is not complaining." It does not hurt the plaintiffs to hear the president request they give thanks, the court said: "The President has made a request; he has not issued a command." FfRF plans to request that the court rehear the case with its full panel of judges.

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