refugees

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll update, Notre Dame fire, bad vibrations in NYC , Kent Brantly's next mission

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll update, Notre Dame fire, bad vibrations in NYC , Kent Brantly's next mission

This week, GetReligion’s Richard Ostling visited longtime Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll, who is staying with her sister Cheryl in Amherst, Mass.

Ostling and Zoll worked together as AP’s national religion team for years.

Most know that Zoll, recipient of awards last year from AP and the Religion News Association, has been coping with brain cancer since January 2018.

She passed along the following message to her many friends on the Godbeat: “I miss you all. I love hearing what people are doing and working on and wish you the best.”

By the way, Ostling is now on Twitter. Give him a follow!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Once again, we have no clear honoree this week. So I’ll call your attention to Terry Mattingly’s post on a must-read New York Times multimedia report on the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.

In his post, tmatt also links to Clemente Lisi’s piece on how French church vandalism cases finally are starting to get the journalistic attention they deserve.

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Doug Bock Clark writes beautifully on a sorrowful topic in North Korean life

Doug Bock Clark writes beautifully on a sorrowful topic in North Korean life

Doug Bock Clark has written an amazing report for GQ that is essential reading for those who care about North Korea refugees and how Christianity has driven one man to help them.

Clark reports on the Underground Railroad that helps people escape from North Korea to China and from there to multiple Southeast Asian countries.

Clark has published two previous longform reports with GQ: an account of Kim Jong-nam’s being murdered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a detail-rich record of how Otto Warmbier so easily slipped from student visitor to a dead victim of North Korean brutality.

Now he begins with the story of a young mother named Faith who makes a slow and costly journey from Pyongyang to Phnom Penh.

The following passage is long, but essential, if GetReligion readers want to understand why this is a must-read feature.

Much of Faith’s journey is arranged by Stephen Kim, the believer at the heart of this amazing story:

For safety, Kim doesn’t want too much known about his past, but there are two facts that he feels are important in order to understand him. First, his father grew up in what became North Korea before he moved to modern-day South Korea to run a wholesale vegetable business. Sometime after that, the Korean Peninsula was split into two nations and the Korean War broke out. Thus, while Kim grew up in the South, he thought of North Koreans as long-lost family. Second, Kim’s father was Christian, and though he and his family eventually stopped attending church, Kim never forgot Jesus.

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Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Most weeks, Friday Five wraps up the week in religion reporting.

But here’s a secret about this week: I’ve been mostly away from my computer screen, celebrating Christmas with my family.

So there’s an excellent chance I’ve missed important and/or interesting news in the world of the Godbeat. In that case, please don’t hesitate to share links in the comments section or by tweeting us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed it in the midst of your own holiday festivities, I wrote earlier this week about the New York Times’ front-page Sunday feature on a national trend of Baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes.

I particularly loved the story’s dateline, which I thought was brilliant: Bethlehem, Pa.

In related coverage, McClatchy had this intriguing headline on the day after Christmas:

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Religion ghost? Ethiopian refugee thrives with strong values, family and maybe something else

Religion ghost? Ethiopian refugee thrives with strong values, family and maybe something else

Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader that is rather poignant. It's like this person is reading a good story in the local newspaper and then there is a passage that produces a kind of melancholy feeling, a sense of curiosity and loss.

Was there a religion ghost hiding somewhere in the story? Would anyone else read this news report and feel the same way? Would other readers have the same suspicion that there was crucial religious material missing?

So the reader sends me the URL to the story, often with a note that reads something like this:

Numerous media outlets have published stories about Oromo Ethiopian refugee Tashitaa Tufaa's success in the US. ... As a Greek Orthodox when I read the article I was curious as to whether his religion -- Christian or Islam -- had any effect on him. I reviewed many of similar articles. Religion was never mentioned.

In this case we are dealing with a story from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The double-decker headline proclaims, success-story style:

Minneapolis/St. Paul transit entrepreneur Tashitaa Tufaa is Entrepreneur of the Year
Tashitaa Tufaa, who built a $12 million school bus service in just a decade, is the Metropolitan Economic Development Association's 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year

Simply stated, this is a business story about -- from all accounts -- a remarkable man:

Tashitaa Tufaa, whose walk to school in his native Ethiopia was a 10-mile round trip in bare feet, now sees to the safe transit of thousands of schoolchildren daily as president and CEO of Fridley-based Metropolitan Transportation Network Inc.

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The real Muslims of Hawaii: WSJ digs below the surface after Trump's travel ban blocked

The real Muslims of Hawaii: WSJ digs below the surface after Trump's travel ban blocked

After a federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump's revised executive order on immigration and refugees, the Wall Street Journal dispatched Los Angeles-based national religion writer Ian Lovett to Honolulu.

Talk about a tough assignment! (And, by the way, could you please sign me up?)

In my time with The Christian Chronicle, I've been blessed to report from all 50 states and 10 countries. This probably won't surprise you, but the Aloha State was one of my favorite to visit.

I don't know if Lovett got to spend any time at the beach or if he was too busy working, but his excellent feature captures the mood — and concerns — of the island state's Muslims in the Trump era.

The lede explains Hawaii's surprising role in the controversy:

HONOLULU — With only a few thousand Muslim residents, Hawaii would seem an unlikely place to challenge — and halt — President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Only a half-dozen of refugees are settled here each year. The small Muslim community has quietly thrived, away from the conflicts on the mainland. They built a mosque in the hills overlooking Waikiki, celebrated the end of Ramadan on the beach and enjoyed good relationships with neighbors in this multicultural state. Anti-Islamic threats or hate speech was virtually unheard of, Muslims here say.
But all of that has abruptly changed in recent weeks, as Hawaii’s Muslim community has found itself at the center of the nationwide battle over immigration and Islam’s place in American society.
Anti-Muslim incidents have jumped since late last year, Muslims here say, and members of the community have been separated from their families by Mr. Trump’s travel ban.
The state of Hawaii—along with the imam at the mosque here, Ismail Elshikh—sued to stop the revised ban from taking effect, saying it was motivated by religious animus toward Muslims. On Wednesday night, a federal judge agreed and put the order on hold.

From there, the Journal does a really nice job of quoting real Muslims in Hawaii and letting them describe their own experiences. The piece puts real faces on the random Muslims we hear so much about.

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When it comes to covering controversial petitions, the little guy in the list may be the big story

When it comes to covering controversial petitions, the little guy in the list may be the big story

It’s hard to make a petition sound exciting, but there are ways. A few days ago, a bunch of evangelical Protestant leaders signed a petition denouncing the Trump refugee ban and ran it in a full-page ad in the Washington Post. Being that such ads cost somewhere north of $30K, that was a substantial outlay for World Relief, the sponsor.

I am surprised that other than CNN, the Post itself, The Hill and The Guardian, most other publications ignored it, or simply rewrote CNN’s piece.

I’ll start with CNN’s account, as I believe they broke the story:

(CNN) -- Scores of evangelical leaders, including at least one from each state, have taken out a full-page newspaper advertisement to denounce President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees, urging him to reconsider his executive order and welcome people fleeing persecution and violence.
On January 27, Trump issued an executive order that temporarily restricts travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for four months, indefinitely bars Syrian refugees and reduces the number of refugees the United States will accept from 110,000 to 50,000.
The evangelicals' advertisement, which is slated to run in The Washington Post, is signed by 100 prominent evangelical pastors and authors, including some who rarely wade into politics. It is addressed to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Signees include Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Christian author Ann Voskamp, Bill and Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, preacher and author Max Lucado, Pastor Eugene Cho of Quest Church and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
CNN obtained an early copy of the advertisement, which appears in the name of World Relief, an evangelical relief organization that has resettled thousands of refugees in the United States. In addition to the leaders who signed the print ad, hundreds more have endorsed its message online, said Scott Arbeiter, World Relief's President.

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From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

From Muslim to Christian: The Atlantic offers sensitive look at Berlin community

When you share lentils and rice pilaf with people; when you attend church with them and talk to their pastor; when you pay a follow-up visit weeks later; you naturally convey a more intimate feel for your topic.  This traditional wisdom of journalism is used to great effect in The Atlantic's feature on Muslim converts to Christianity in Germany.

The writer, Laura Kasinof, talks to three Iranian refugees in Berlin. She gets an overview with their pastor, a Lutheran minister, as well as an interchurch leader. She conveys the jubilant mood at a worship service. And she attempts to hint at the size of the trend of conversion, although she doesn't get comprehensive figures.

Kasinof did the story on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Whatever the sum, it was well spent. Her article is sensitive and thoughtful, and vastly superior to a similar piece in the Daily Beast this spring. As my colleague Julia Duin said then, the Beast somehow managed to link the trend to the U.S. presidential elections. Almost like clicking a nation-level selfie.

Astonishingly, the Daily Beast article has no quotes from any actual refugees, except those it borrowed from a newspaper. The Atlantic article doesn't neglect that vital facet:

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Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

World Youth Day is under way in Poland, with up to 1.5 million expected at the main events. American news readers, of course, have learned to expect something else on such occasions: a long, ponderous look at church and state by the New York Times.

And the Gray Lady comes through, with nearly 1,500 words on the church in Poland -- mainly how cozy it is with Polish conservatism and, of course, how out of step its traditional faith is with that of Pope Francis:

WARSAW -- When Pope Francis arrives in Poland this week to attend World Youth Day, one of the major events on the Catholic calendar, he will face a politically powerful church closely tied to the country’s new right-wing government. The church here carries a deep strain of social conservatism that does not always align with the pope’s more open and welcoming views.

Is there a contest for the number of liberal catch-terms in a single paragraph? Because it looks like the Times is trying to win it. You gotcher "right-wing." You gotcher "politically powerful." You gotcher "conservatism" -- a word used in various forms four times, including the headline: "Pope Francis Will Encounter a Socially Conservative Church in Poland."

One of our Faithful Readers fumed over what she saw as a "prism of anti-Catholic bias." She saw "socially conservative" as the Times' semi-curse term that means "following church teachings." 

Actually, I liked the article better than that. For one, it quotes Polish sources instead of using the "sources say" phrase, which often covers for a reporter's own opinion. The seven named sources include church leaders, a theologian and leaders of Poland's political parties. 

The Times also establishes the prominence of faith in Polish history and society. It says 92 percent of Poles identify as Catholic, and 40 percent attend weekly -- higher than other Catholic countries.

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Women, rape, Germany and immigrants: What's missing in the news coverage?

Women, rape, Germany and immigrants: What's missing in the news coverage?

Only once in my life have I been surrounded by a mob of men.

I had just celebrated my 30th birthday in Jerusalem with friends and was heading for the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. To get there, I had to head through the Old City, out of the Damascus Gate, then somehow find the Egged bus terminal for the two-hour trip. I had just embarked on this route on a Friday afternoon just when crowds of Muslim men began leaving the Temple Mount after prayer. I was dressed modestly in a long skirt and long sleeves, but my head was not covered.

The street went from empty to packed in a few minutes. So many men –- I could see no women -- were pressed against me, I could have picked up my feet and been carried along. Then I felt someone reach under my skirt and make his way up my leg. Terrified, I whirled around and ordered him in English to back off. All the men around me laughed. Knowing things could get out of control fast and that I’d be on the losing end, I pushed my way through the crowd until I got through the gate.

A few years later when I was back in town with a different tour, I insisted that at least one of the men in our group accompany me at all times in the Old City to cut back on the harassment. Which is why I have a lot of sympathy for the 1,000-plus German women who have reported that they were sexually assaulted in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve. You cannot imagine what it's like when it’s you against a crowd.

Earlier this month, the news came out that 2,000 men were involved in the attacks. That’s a small army, folks. But when the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle described the incidents, a key detail was missing: 

A Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) inquiry into the wide-spread New Year's Eve sexual assaults uncovered 900 cases of sexual crimes with over 1,200 victims, German media reported on Sunday.

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