Pakistan Steps Up Security After IS Kills 9 in Church Attack

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani security forces were on high alert across the country on Monday, following a suicide attack by the Islamic State group that targeted a church, killing nine people, officials said.

The assault on Sunday in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, also wounded about 60 worshippers. It was the first attack on a church claimed by the IS affiliate in Pakistan.

Mass funerals of those killed in the attack were to be held later Monday in Quetta. The provincial police chief, Moazzam Ansari, said security forces were trying to find those who orchestrated the attack.

About 400 worshippers were attending the service when two bombers carrying assault rifles stormed the church, triggering a gun-battle in which one assailant was killed by police guards and the other opened fire at worshippers and detonated his explosives’ vest.

The Islamic State affiliate initially only claimed responsibility for the attack but a second statement posted on the IS-linked Aamaq news agency said two IS “martyrdom-seeking fighters clad in explosive vests and carrying machine guns and hand grenades, attacked the church.”

One of the attackers detonated his vest among the “Crusaders while the other was killed in a clash with the renegade Pakistani security forces,” it said.

IS has claimed several attacks in Pakistan in recent years though Islamabad denies the group’s presence and claims it has no organized network in the country.

Prime Minister Shahif Khaqan Abbasi and army chief Gen. Qamer Javed Bajwa condemned the attack.

Naseem Masih, who was wounded in the assault, said one of the attackers reached the entrance of the prayer hall, where he opened fire before blowing himself up.

“We were praying when a bullet hit me,” Masih said.

It was the first time IS claimed an attack on a church in Pakistan, though Muslim extremists have targeted churches in the past.

The deadliest previous attack on a church was in September 2013, when twin suicide bomb blasts killed 85 people in a Peshawar church. Jundullah, or Army of God, then a little-known militant group, claimed responsibility for that attack.

In March 2015, two suicide bombers attacked two churches in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 15 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed that attack.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Holiday Travel Chaos Ahead After Atlanta Airport Outage

ATLANTA (AP) — While power has been restored to the world’s busiest airport, the travel woes will linger for days.

Thousands of people were stranded Monday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where more than 1,000 flights were grounded just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.

A sudden power outage caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the airport to a standstill Sunday about 1 p.m.

All outgoing flights and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.

Delta Air Lines, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By Sunday evening, Delta had already canceled nearly 900 flights and another 300 Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it likely will be Tuesday before Delta’s operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers “it could be most of the week” because there aren’t many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.

One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.

Also, Delta customers flying to or from Atlanta can make a one-time change to travel plans without incurring a $200 change fee. The airline also encouraged travelers not to pick up their bags Monday because of anticipated congestion at the airport.

Still, when flights at Atlanta were grounded for most of one day last spring, it took Delta five days — and about 4,000 canceled flights — before it fully recovered.

Like Sunday’s outage, that April storm hit Delta’s largest hub at a busy travel time when there weren’t many empty seats to accommodate customers from canceled flights. At the time, CEO Ed Bastian vowed Delta would make “significant improvements” to its system for scheduling and tracking aircraft crews to recover more quickly from disruptions.

Other airlines also canceled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines canceled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.

The city of Atlanta provides shuttle service to the Georgia Convention Center on Sunday for travelers in need of a place to stay.

Delta passenger Emilia Duca, 32, was on her way to Wisconsin from Bogota, Colombia, when she got stuck in Atlanta. She said police made passengers who were in the baggage claim area move to a higher floor. She said restaurants and shops were closed. Vending machines weren’t working.

“A lot of people are arriving, and no one is going out. No one is saying anything official. We are stuck here,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”

Adding to the nightmare are what some passengers said was a lack of information from airport officials and help from first responders to get the disabled and the elderly through the airport without the use of escalators and elevators.

“They had these elderly people, handicapped people lined up in wheelchairs,” said stranded passenger Rutia Curry. “The people were helpless, they can’t get down the stairs. It was just a nightmare.”

Passenger James Beatty said there was no real method for evacuation.

“I mean there was 40 or 50 people per the terminal area that were confined to wheelchairs and some that couldn’t get through the airport very well, some of them actually couldn’t walk and there was no plan at all to get them out of here without any power.”

Beatty said passengers carried those who used wheelchairs down stairs.

The FAA said it would staff the airport control tower throughout the night so that it can handle flights once they resume. The FAA said the tower could operate normally but flights were affected because airport equipment in the terminals was not working.

According to a Georgia Power statement, the utility believes a piece of equipment in an underground electrical facility may have failed, causing the fire. The fire was next to equipment for a backup system, causing that to also fail.

“No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time,” the statement said.

No areas outside of the airport were affected by the power loss. The utility said there are “many redundant systems in place” to ensure the power supply to the airport and that such outages at the airport “are very rare.”

That wasn’t enough to comfort Jeff Smith, 46, of Pittsburgh, who ended up stuck in a plane on the tarmac for three hours after it landed.

“This is the worst experience I’ve ever had at an airport,” he said.

Sara Melillo, who was traveling to Pittsburgh from Kenya, where she lives with her husband, Greg Presto, to spend Christmas with his family were stuck on the tarmac for six hours. The couple had made stops in Nairobi and Amsterdam and landed shortly after the lights went out in Atlanta.

She said the pilot didn’t have a lot of information for the travelers but the plane had air conditioning and attendants offered water and juice a few times. She described the Delta terminal as “big chaos” with not enough customer service for the hundreds of people trying to find a flight to their next destination and a place to sleep for the night.

With her new boarding pass handwritten and her bags still stuck on a plane, Melillo was hopeful that she and her husband would be able to get a flight in the morning to Pittsburgh, she said as she waited for an Uber to take them to a hotel.

Airport workers were distributing bottled water, and Dunkin’ Donuts was giving out doughnuts.

Officer Lisa Bender of the Atlanta Police Department said officers were at the airport to help with crowd control and managing traffic around the airport.

At Southwest Airlines, about 70 Atlanta departures out of 120 scheduled for Sunday were canceled, an airline spokesman said in an email. United Airlines and JetBlue Airways were among carriers reporting delays or cancellations.

American Airlines reported only a handful of diversions and cancellations because the carrier does not use Atlanta as a hub, airline spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello.

Hartsfield-Jackson, which serves 104 million passengers a year, is the world’s busiest airport, a distinction it has held since 1998.

The airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website. Nearly 2,500 planes arrive and depart each day.

Playlist: The Best New Christmas Music

The Advent and Christmas seasons are filled with more than their share of paradoxes. We raid our basements and attics for the nostalgia of Christmases past as we scour websites to buy the latest gadgets as gifts. As the daylight dwindles (at least in the northern hemisphere!) our belief in what we can accomplish in 24 hours reaches new heights. Meanwhile, recording artists are rushing to release their latest attempt to redefine the canon of seasonal classics. As preparations for Christmas productions reach new frenzied heights, I wonder if any church has ever preached Ecclesiastes for Christmas: “There is nothing new under the sun!” The paradoxes of this season can truly be wearying, but there is also endless wonder to be found in the Incarnation. Artists have been finding fresh creativity in meditating on the coming of the One through whom all things were made.

Songs for Advent

In my circles as a worship leader, there has been a growing eagerness to explore Advent and to explore it as more than just a contemplative season before Christmas. The Worship Sourcebook, a key resource for pastors and worship leaders for years, emphasizes Advent not just as a season of waiting but as one “designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent, we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the Second Coming.”

So it makes sense that most churches sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which explores images of Christ from the Old Testament. But the musical repertoire is growing as more artists observe the season. The Welcome Wagon has a wonderful retune of the James Montgomery text based in Psalm 72, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,” which was originally written as part of a Christmas ode. The Brilliance (like the Welcome Wagon, a group from the New York City area), has an album exploring multiple themes of Advent. Its song “Open Up” is a sung prayer asking for help to be the light of Christ in a dark world. Pillar Church, from Holland, Michigan, retuned an old French carol, “O Come, Divine Messiah,” that speaks both to the birth and future reign of Christ. Josh Garrels’s new Christmas record includes “O Day of Peace,” a timely hymn (text by Carl Daw) looking toward the day of Christ’s return. A song that has rung out in our home this season is the groovy retune of “Heal Us, Emmanuel” by the Reformed University Fellowship group at Jackson State on the most recent Indelible Grace record.

Bonus Tracks:
  • Sojourn – A Voice Is Sounding (retune of Edward Caswell’s “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”)
  • PageCXVI – Comfort, Comfort, Now My People
  • Norman Hutchins – Emmanuel
  • Chicago Metro Presbytery – Prepare the Way of Zion
  • Young Oceans – To Thee We Run

Songs for the Lukan Canticles

A few Christmases ago, my pastor decided to preach through the songs that surround the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s story is a musical, filled with songs celebrating Christ’s coming: Mary’s song (1:46–55), Zechariah’s song (1:67–79), the angels’ song (2:14), and Simeon’s song (2:25–35). But it was odd to me that as many songs as there are for Christmas, I had an impossible time finding many contemporary versions of the Bible’s own songs! After my own group, Cardiphonia, produced a project on this topic, I found a number of other versions that will stay in heavy rotation this season. My favorite Magnificat belongs to The Gentle Wolves’ rootsy arrangement of the “Canticle of the Turning” and The Ordinary Time’s “Mary’s Song.” The version of Zechariah’s song on The Gospel Coalition’s Luke album is a must, especially if you have great backup singers! I also love the lyrical work of Wendell Kimbrough in his metrical “Dawning Light of Our Salvation” (shameless plug: I wrote the music.) Versions of Simeon’s song are a bit trickier, but Daniel Renstrom captures the tension of the text in his “Rise & Fall” and Greg Scheer’s “Lord God, Now Let Your Servant Depart in Peace” makes an excellent sung benediction. If you are searching for a song that grasps the moment where the angels rock their “Gloria in Excelsis” over the trembling shepherds, I suggest either Castle Island Hymns’ fifth-century retune “Gloria” or the simpler take from High Street Hymns.

Bonus Tracks:
  • Brian Moss – Sing Out My Soul
  • Melanie Penn – Great Things (Mary)
  • Cardiphonia – Upon a Hill in Bethlehem
  • Wendell Kimbrough – Mary’s Song (Our King of Peace)
  • Sovereign Grace – He Who Is Mighty

  • Sandra McCracken – This Is the Christ (retune of Martin Luther text)

Songs for the Incarnation

In a songwriting class I audited a few years ago with Duke Divinity professor Lester Ruth, we meditated on how theology more easily leads to awe and wonder—the bedrock of worship—as it moves from prose to poetic forms. One of my favorite quotes was from Charles Wesley in his collection of Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord,

Gaze on that helpless object
Of endless adoration!
Those infant-hands
Shall burst our bands,
And work out our salvation;

Sometimes songs on the Incarnation are thicker than the average praise song, but their richness nourishes our souls. The new hymn “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell is one that welcomes you into the expansive story of Christ, singing his life from birth to second Advent. The new classic “Joy Has Dawned” from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend is one of the few Christmas songs to exalt the mystery of the Incarnation directly:

What a Saviour what a Friend
What a glorious mystery
Once a babe in Bethlehem
Now the Lord of history.

I am similarly grounded by Wen Reagan’s adaptation of the Naaman Wood text, “In Glorious Feasting,” which pulls no punches in its poetic descriptions of Christ’s birth:

Our Lord, from virgin womb He crowns
In majesties of blood,
He breathes his first, He cries aloud—
The Everlasting Word.

Out of Heaven,” from the excellent Christmas record by Bifrost Arts Music, is another example that invites us to consider the newborn Christ as something more than a benign baby, but one that is both God and our brother. Finally, Sandra McCracken brings this text from William Walsham How to life in her retune for Indelible Grace:

Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path has trod;
He is Lord from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.

There is rich fare here for the patient listener who desires to find something in Christmas music beyond sentimentality, and balm for those struggling with depression and the memories of loss. As we are reminded in Mary and Simeon’s songs, there are battles to be fought, corporal as well as spiritual. (Check out The Modern Post’s Christmas song, “This is War.”) In this season, the church needs to be a place where even the Beatitudes become our carols. We are a “weary world rejoicing.” So we sing joy to the world as far as the curse is found, singing the truth that Christ’s return will make all things new.

Bonus Tracks:
  • Brittney Hope – Glory in the Darkest Place
  • Lowland Hum – O Holy Night
  • Resound Worship – What Kind of Throne
  • Green Carpet Players – All Things New (retune of Horatius Bonar’s Advent text “Come, Lord, and Tarry Not.”)
Bonus-bonus tracks:
  • Lowland Hum – Jesus Christ the Appletree
  • Nathan Partain – Gathered ’Round Your Table (a communion song for Christmas Eve)
  • Sister Sinjin – Magnificat

Bruce Benedict is the worship and arts chaplain at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and creative director for Cardiphonia Music.

McCain Returning Home to Arizona, Will Likely Miss Tax Vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain is returning home to Arizona after being hospitalized for the side effects of his brain cancer treatment and likely will miss a crucial vote on the GOP tax package, President Donald Trump said Sunday.

Trump told reporters he had spoken to McCain’s wife, Cindy after her husband had spent about a week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

“They’ve headed back, but I understand he’ll come if we ever needed his vote, which hopefully we won’t,” Trump said after returning to the White House from Camp David. “But the word is that John will come back if we need his vote. And it’s too bad. He’s going through a very tough time, there’s no question about it. But he will come back if we need his vote.”

Now in his sixth Senate term, McCain, 81, underwent surgery in mid-July to remove a 2-inch (51-millimeter) blood clot in his brain after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. A statement issued last Wednesday by the senator’s office said he was at Walter Reed receiving treatment for the “normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy.”

His daughter Meghan McCain tweeted Sunday: “My father is doing well and we are all looking forward to spending Christmas together in Arizona.”

Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, and McCain and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., missed votes last week. The 80-year-old Cochran had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. He is expected to vote this coming week on the tax bill.

Republicans secured the support of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker last Friday for the tax measure, and they are poised to pass the bill by a narrow margin in the face of unified Democratic opposition. As a backstop, Vice President Mike Pence would be available to break a tie.

A vote is expected in the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday. If approved, the measure would head to Trump for his signature on what will be his first major legislative accomplishment since taking office 11 months ago.

After his summer surgery, McCain rebounded quickly, returning to Washington and entering the Senate on July 25 to a standing ovation from his colleagues.

In a dramatic turn, he cast a deciding vote against the Republican health care bill — a move that drew the wrath of Trump and conservatives. McCain’s vote scuttled the seven-year effort by the GOP to dismantle much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

But McCain’s condition has appeared to worsen in recent weeks. He suffered a minor tear in his right Achilles tendon, forcing him to wear a walking brace. McCain eventually began using a wheelchair, with members of his staff pushing him where he needed to go.

As a Navy pilot, McCain lived through a July 1967 fire that killed 134 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. The following October, his plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi. He spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. McCain also has survived several bouts with melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

‘The Last Jedi’ Opens with $220M, 2nd Best Weekend All-Time

NEW YORK (AP) — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will happily settle for second.

Rian Johnson’s second installment in the third “Star Wars” trilogy rocketed to a debut of $220 million at the North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday. That gives “The Last Jedi” the second-best opening ever, slotting in behind only its predecessor, “The Force Awakens.”

The Disney blockbuster became just the fourth film to open above $200 million domestically. Aside from “The Force Awakens” ($248.8 million), the others are “The Avengers” ($207.4 million) and “Jurassic World” ($208.8 million). Accounting for inflation, the debut of 2012′s “The Avengers” would roughly tie with “The Last Jedi.”

“The Last Jedi” is off to a similar start overseas, too, with $230 million in international ticket sales, said Disney. That brings its three-day global haul to $450 million.

The opening also gave the Walt Disney Co. the opportunity to flex its muscles on the heels of the deal announced Thursday for it to purchase 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. As part of the deal, Disney will take control of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood’s six major studios.

“The weekend that we’re in is a byproduct of the foresight and vision from our CEO Bob Iger to bring Lucasfilm into the fold,” said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, alluding to Disney’s 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. “So as we think about the possibility of other things being added, you can’t help but be excited about the possibilities.”

Fox, as it happens, was the only studio to open another new wide-release film against “The Last Jedi.” Its family film, “Ferdinand,” was essentially stampeded by “The Last Jedi,” grossing $13.3 million. “Ferdinand” and other upcoming holiday season releases will look for more room in the coming weeks, once the “Star Wars” tsunami has waned.

While Abrams’ reboot capitalized on a decade’s hiatus for “Star Wars,” Johnson’s sequel didn’t have the same benefit of freshness. It follows not only “The Force Awakens” (which ultimately grossed $2.1 billion) but last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One.” That release opened with $155.1 million and grossed in total little more than $1 billion globally.

Johnson, who wrote and directed, instead aimed to distinguish “The Last Jedi” by introducing some new tones to George Lucas’ space opera. “The Last Jedi” is more irreverent than previous chapters. And it has drawn plaudits for its diverse cast, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran.

“The results speak to the power of representation,” said Hollis. “The film really reflects our world and beyond. It becomes something people can see themselves in, whether they see themselves in Rey or Finn or Poe or Rose or Captain Phasma. They can relate to all those characters.”

Johnson’s approach has seemed to work. Critics gave Johnson’s film a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences endorsed it, too, with an A CinemaScore, though not all fans are on board with Johnson’s innovations. As of Sunday, “The Last Jedi” has scored a dismal 56 percent rating from some 95,000 Rotten Tomato users.

Yet the haul for “The Last Jedi” dwarfed most all releases in the two years since “The Force Awakens.” By comparison, it has in three days already bested the five-week gross of Warner Bros.′ “Justice League” ($219.5 million).

“Seeing a movie like this in the movie theater, getting the collective goosebumps and having the OMG-moments, that’s something you cannot replicate at home on the small screen,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “Rian Johnson has made a movie that showcases the movie theater experience in a truly brilliant way.”

Signaling its faith in Johnson’s course for “Star Wars,” Lucasfilm earlier announced that Johnson will develop the next trilogy for the franchise, the first of which he’ll write and direct. Abrams is set to return to direct Episode IX after he was brought in to replace Colin Trevorrow. A separate spinoff centered on a young Han Solo is due out next summer.

The massive debut for “The Last Jedi” singlehandedly brightens what has been a disappointing year for Hollywood. The weekend was far and away the highest grossing of the year. According to comScore, the industry was down about 3.9 percent from last year before this weekend. Now it’s 2.9 percent off the 2016 pace. Dergarabedian estimates the year will end about 2 percent down with a little over $11 billion in ticket sales.

“The Last Jedi” may be playing the role of savior at the box office, but the news isn’t all rosy for exhibitors. Given the demand, Disney put more onerous demands on some theater owners for “The Last Jedi,” including a higher percentage — 65 percent — of ticket sales. And Disney’s acquisition of Fox is seen by analysts as a bid, in part, to strengthen the studio’s in-development streaming platform, set to debut in 2019.

Disney and Fox combined for five of the top 10 movies on the weekend and together accounted for approximately 90 percent of ticket sales.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “The Last Jedi,” $220 million ($230 million international).

2. “Ferdinand,” $13.3 million ($6.2 million international).

3. “Coco,” $10 million ($27.4 million international).

4. “Wonder,” $5.4 million ($9.4 million international).

5. “Justice League,” $4.2 million ($5.3 million international).

6. “Daddy’s Home 2,” $3.8 million ($5.8 million international).

7. “Thor: Ragnarok,” $3 million ($1.1 million international).

8. “The Disaster Artist,” $2.6 million.

9. “Murder on the Orient Express,” $2.5 million ($10.8 million international).

10. “Lady Bird,” $2.1 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

1. “The Last Jedi,” $230 million.

2. “Youth,” $44 million.

3. “The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,” $27.9 million.

4. “Coco,” $27.4 million.

5. “Steel Rain,” $11.6 million.

6. “Murder on the Orient Express,” $10.8 million.

7. “Paddington 2,” $9.7 million.

8. “Wonder,” $9.4 million.

9. “Ferdinand,” $6.2 million.

10. “Daddy’s Home 2,” $5.8 million.

ISIS Claims Deadly Attack on Hundreds at Pre-Christmas Church Service in Pakistan

(Photo: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)A man carries a boy as he shouts for an ambulance after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan Dec. 17, 2017.

At least nine worshipers were killed and over 50 others were injured after Islamic extremists conducted an attack on a church in southwestern Pakistan during a Sunday pre-Christmas service.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the town of Quetta, the capital city of the Baluchistan province, according to its media arm, the Amaq News Agency.

Government officials told international media that one radical detonated himself at the gate of the church, while another was killed while shooting at worshippers.

According to the home minister for the south-western Baluchistan province, Sarfraz Bugti, as many as 400 worshippers were attending the service. Police officials have also said that the attack could have been even more deadly if it were not for the swift actions of security forces to take out the attackers.

“Otherwise the loss of lives could have been much higher,” Baluchistan police chief, Moazzam Ansari was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

The police chief also told media that the church was on heightened alert because of the increased threat of terror during the Christmas season. He asserted that had the militants been able to reach the sanctuary without resistance of security forces, the attack could have been even more catastrophic.

Police official Abdur Razaq Cheema told media that at least two attackers were able to escape and said that a search is underway.

“Arguably, the quick response of the security forces at the church reduced the impact of this attack, but that has done nothing to ease the anxiety that Christians are feeling,” Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. “Christians clearly need more protection as two attacks on churches in two months is becoming too common an incident.”

(Photo: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)A man carries a girl as he runs out with others after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan on Dec. 17, 2017.

According to Reuters, the attack left much destruction inside the church with broken pews, glass and blood splattered on the church’s Christmas tree.

Reuters also notes that despite claiming responsibility for the attack, Amaq News Agency shared no further details about the attack.

Hospital officials told media two women were among the dead and 10 women and seven children were among those injured.

According to the The New York Times, the attack comes as military and paramilitary troops have been deployed to Quetta, which has suffered from violent attacks recently.

Human rights activists and advocates have called for the government to provide greater protections for Christians during Christmas time.

According to the Associated Press, dozens of protesters gathered outside a local hospital to protest the lack of security for Christians and other religious minorities.

“Law enforcement agencies have badly failed in protecting common citizens, and minorities in particular,” Shamaun Alfred Gill, a Christian activist in Islamabad told The New York Times.

“December is a month of Christian religious rituals,” Gill added. “We had demanded the government beef up security for churches all over the country. But they have failed to do so.”

Pakistan ranks as the fourth worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2017 World Watch List.

The attack on the church in Quetta follows several other deadly attacks on churches in the Muslim-majority country in the last few years. One of those attacks was the Easter Sunday suicide bombing on a church in Lahore in 2016 that killed at least 73 people, including 29 children.

“Attacking worshipers, especially over the Christmas season, is an act of cowardice,” Nasir Saeed, Director of the U.K.-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, said in a statement. “It is condemnable and such hate and violence cannot help anyone to make a place in Heaven.”

The British Pakistani Christian Association has sent out its officers to help assist families victimized by the attack. BPCA is raising funds to help the victims of Christian persecution in Pakistan and throughout Asia.

“While people in the West eat mince pies and turkey, Christians in Pakistan will be praying for an extra day of their earthly lives and for the protection of their children,” Chowdhry said.

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Power Outage at Atlanta Airport Disrupts Flights

ATLANTA (AP) – Authorities say a power outage at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has disrupted ingoing and outgoing flights.
Airport spokesman Reese McCraine says the outage occurred early Sunday afternoon. He says all airport operations are being affected and that outgoing flights were halted.
McCraine says some incoming flights are being diverted to other airports in the region.
Georgia Power said it was working to find out the cause and restore electricity. The airport said on its Facebook page that departures were delayed because airport equipment in the terminals is not working.
The Federal Aviation Administration, meanwhile, has implemented a “ground stop” for flights headed to the airport. A ground stop means that flights headed to Atlanta are held on the ground at their departure airport.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Spires and Crosses: The Malaysian Church That Could Be in the English Countryside

(PHOTO: DENNISLENNOX)An old church in Malaysia

Malaysia isn’t a country one associates with old churches. After all, it’s a majority Muslim country.

Yet, as a past installment of this column detailed, Malaysia is home to a surprising number of interesting churches — Anglican and Roman Catholic alike.

These legacies of colonialism, particularly British colonialism, can be found throughout the country. In particular, the Anglican cathedral in the Malaysian capital offers a unique glimpse into life when the sun never set on the British Empire.

The Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin was designed by architect A.C. Norman in the style of Gothic Revival, specifically Early English, and built in 1894 to replace a circa 1887 wooden edifice. It only became the episcopal see of the Anglican bishop of West Malaysia in 1970, when the bishopric was carved out of Diocese of Singapore.

While the nave was extended in the 1950s, the late Victorian-era core retains its prominence. So much so that a visitor would be forgiven if they thought they were in England.

The interior is simple. The only decoration is monuments and plaques memorializing long-forgotten names — almost exclusively of British origin — adorning the white plaster walls.

As with churches in Hong Kong, Singapore and the West Indies, the only concessions to Malaysia’s hot and humid climate are modern-day electric fans and doorways installed in gothicky-looking window openings, the latter of which is also seen in two 19th century Anglican churches on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The chancel and high altar are divided from the nave by a splendid wrought iron rood screen, though the present ordering of the interior makes use of a freestanding altar — a simple wooden table — protruding two steps above the nave and enclosed by brass rails. Behind the freestanding altar at the liturgical north end of the rood screen is a matching wrought iron pulpit decorated with a beautiful bronze relief that is dedicated to the memory of Chares Edwin Spooner (born 1853-died 1909), a British colonial engineer who was posted in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) for 14 years before arriving in Kuala Lumpur.

Those with an interest in church music will be interested in the cathedral’s original 1885 pipe organ from Henry Willis, who also made the organ for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. And yes, it remains in use today, when St. Mary’s hosts 11 services every Sunday.

Spires and Crosses is published every week.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.
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Kremlin Says Putin Thanked Trump for CIA Tip on Bombings

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned U.S. President Donald Trump Sunday to thank him for a CIA tip that helped thwart a series of bombings in St. Petersburg, the Kremlin said.

During the call, the two leaders’ second in three days, Putin expressed gratitude for the CIA information. The Kremlin said it allowed Russia’s top domestic security agency to track down a group of suspects that planned to bomb Kazan Cathedral and other crowded sites this weekend.

“The information received from the CIA proved sufficient to find and detain the criminal suspects,” the Kremlin said.

It added that Putin asked Trump to convey gratitude to the CIA and assured him that “if the Russian intelligence agencies receive information about potential terror threats against the United States and its citizens, they will immediately hand it over to their U.S. counterparts via their communications channels.”

The CIA’s tip to Russia comes even as Russia-U.S. ties have plunged to their lowest level since the Cold War era — first over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine, more recently over allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.

While Russian officials have said the two countries were continuing to exchange a terror-related intelligence, Sunday’s statement from the Kremlin was Russia’s first public assertion that information from the United States helped prevent an attack.

The conversation was the second between the Russian and U.S. presidents since Thursday when Trump thanked Putin for his remarks “acknowledging America’s strong economic performance,” according to the White House.

During the first call, they also discussed ways to work together to address North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons program, the White House said.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced Friday that seven suspected followers of the Islamic State group had been arrested for allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks in St. Petersburg this weekend.

The agency said the suspects were plotting a suicide bombing in a church and a series of other explosions in the city’s busiest areas this coming weekend on IS orders. It said a search of a St. Petersburg apartment found explosives, automatic weapons, and extremist literature.

Russian news reports said that Kazan Cathedral, a landmark 19th century Russian Orthodox church on St. Petersburg’s central Nevsky Prospect, was the prime target.

If the suspects succeeded in bombing the cathedral, it would have been the first major attack on a Russian Orthodox Church by Islamic terrorists, who have blown up apartment buildings, passenger planes and transport facilities in Russia.

In April, a suicide bombing in the St. Petersburg’s subway left 16 dead and wounded more than 50.

Russian TV stations have aired footage daily since Friday of the suspects in the foiled attacks being apprehended and questioned. One segment showed FSB operatives outside a St. Petersburg apartment building detaining a suspect, who appeared later saying he was told to prepare homemade bombs rigged with shrapnel.

“My job was to make explosives, put it in bottles and attach pieces of shrapnel,” the suspect, identified by Russian media as 18-year old Yevgeny Yefimov, said in the footage released by the FSB.

Several other suspects came from mostly Muslim regions in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, and one man was from the ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan that borders Afghanistan.

The TV reports included footage of a metal container, which the suspects used as a laboratory for making explosives, according to the FSB. Another video showed operatives breaking the doors and raiding an apartment used by other suspects.

Last week, the FSB said it also arrested several IS-linked suspects in Moscow, where they allegedly were plotting a series of suicide bombings to coincide with New Year’s celebrations.

The latest calls between Putin and Trump came after the Russian leader praised his U.S. counterpart during a marathon news conference on Thursday.

Putin hailed Trump’s achievements, saying that global markets have demonstrated investors’ confidence in Trump’s economic policies. He said he hoped the U.S. president would be able to follow through on his campaign promises to improve ties with Russia despite pressure from his political foes at home.

During the news conference, Putin also reaffirmed his multiple denials of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and argued that the U.S. is only hurting itself with investigations of alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. The allegations were “invented” by Trump’s foes to undermine his legitimacy, Putin said.

Alexei Chepa, a deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, hailed the CIA tip as a “step toward cooperation.”

“The more such actions we have, the better it will be for both our countries,” Chepa told the state RIA Novosti news agency.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.  All rights reserved. 

100 Christians Killed in Clashes With Militant Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria

(Photo: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)Protesters gather during a demonstration against Fulani herdsmen killings, in Abuja, Nigeria March 16, 2017.

Islamic Fulani herdsmen in northeastern Nigeria, who have been accused of aligning with the Boko Haram terror group, killed more than 100 Christians after reprisal clashes earlier this month with the suspected help of the military, according to a report.

The killings took place in last week northeastern Adamawa state, where tensions began after some herdsmen raped and murdered a pregnant woman belonging to the predominantly Christian Numan community on her farm, and also killed her husband and brother when they intervened, according to World, which says that several community members staged a counterattack on the herdsmen but were ambushed.

The attack razed several villages in the southern part of the state, and a military jet bombed a Lutheran church and other targets, according to witnesses. The government claims it deployed military aircraft in response to the attack.

Stephen Mamza, chairman of the local Christian Association of Nigeria, was quoted as saying that the death toll is at least 100, and that others are still missing and might also be dead.

The 2017 Global Terrorism Index described the herdsmen, who attack Christians regularly in southern Adamawa, as terrorists in 2014.

In February 2016, the Fulani killed 300 Christians in Benue. In March this year, they killed 200 Christians in Nasarawa.

The Global Terrorism Index says the Fulani are responsible for as many as 60,000 deaths since 2001.

In October, the herdsmen slaughtered 48 Christians in several attacks carried out over a period of nine days in Plateau state.

The Rev. Andrew Okebe, the Zonal Coordinator of Christian Association of Nigeria, Miango District, explained what happened during the attack:

“The soldiers had told the women and children to go and hide in the primary (elementary) school class at night while the men in the village constituted a vigilante group and join[ed] the soldiers in patrolling the area. Sadly, the militia descended and the soldiers fled, leaving the defenseless villagers to be massacred by the terrorists.”

International Christian Concern, which reports on the persecution of believers around the world, pointed out at the time that although such raids are not new for the area, the “ferocity and number of attacks in this short period have caused major problems for the beleaguered citizens.”

“Also, the fact that there is a military force stationed in the area, that has been completely ineffective, raises even more cause for concern,” ICC stated.

Government officials do not recognize that the Fulani are targeting Christians for their faith.

In January, Bishop Diamond Emuobor, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said, “Christians should defend themselves and he who has no sword, should sell his coat and buy one to defend himself. We are all human beings, nobody should catch you like a snail and slaughter because you believe in Jesus Christ.”

The bishop also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to do more to stop the killing of Nigerian Christians, noting that people in the northern parts of the country are particularly at risk.