Signs of the Times (4/25/16)

Hundreds of Formerly Antagonistic Hindus Turning to Christ

Hundreds of Hindus who were fiercely antagonistic toward Christianity have been turning to Christ. According to Breaking Christian News, the 2008 murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati sparked intense violence in the predominantly Hindu Kandhamal District in eastern India. Radical Hindus spread the rumor that Christians were responsible for Saraswati’s murder, though non-Christian Maoists claimed to have killed him. The Hindu radicals went on a rampage, destroying 300 churches and 6,000 homes, and displacing at least 50,000 people. Because of the severe persecution, many fled to the jungles, where more died from poisonous snakes or disease. Recently, however, there are reports that those very jungles where many Christians died are becoming places where many Hindus are encountering Jesus Christ. “By God’s grace we are holding evangelistic jungle camps everywhere the violence took place,” said an indigenous religious leader. “It is God’s doing. Thousands are gathering in the jungle camps in Kandhamal District to hear the living Word of God. People were happy and encouraged to live for Jesus and His kingdom.” “I was searching for this kind of life, and Jesus gave it to me. He is the only true and loving God,” one woman testified.

Muslim Man Intent on Killing Christian Family is Miraculously Converted

A Muslim man who was intent on killing Christians has miraculously encountered Christ and become a Christian. Charisma News reports that Al-Rashid was the commander of a radical Islamic group that sought to bring all people and nations under Islamic rule. Al-Rashid was especially angered by a report of a former Muslim who had converted to Christianity, become a pastor, and began spreading the gospel. Al-Rashid and his band of followers attempted many times to capture and kill Pastor Paul and his family. “We attacked them several times,” Al-Rashid recounted, “and miraculously they escaped.” The last time they tried to capture the family was when the daughter was sick and being placed in an ambulance. Then, something miraculous happened. “I saw a ball of light came down from the sky and stand (sic) over the room where his daughter was lying unconscious,” he says. The pastor’s daughter regained consciousness and stood up, healed. Al-Rashid saw a hand reach down with a hole in it and blood flowing from the hole. After this vision, Al-Rashid felt no peace. A shadow of a human face appeared with the same hand he had seen earlier and asked why Al-Rashid was “nailing Him.” Soon after, he surrendered his life to Christ. “Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And He will give you peace. Accept Him as your Savior,” he now tells others.

Thousands Gather to Protest Norway’s Removal of Children from Christian Family

Thousands of Norwegian Christians are protesting the government’s removal of five children from a Christian family. Christian Today reports that the parents had their five children taken from them after Norway’s child welfare service, the Barnevernet, deemed them unfit to raise the children. The government’s intervention began when officials asked the children at school if their parents spanked them. Corporal punishment is against the law in Norway. The children responded affirmatively and were consequently taken from their parents, who have been accused of parental child abuse and religious indoctrination. Tens of thousands of protesters joined together to petition the government to restore the children to their family. Cristian Ionescu, a spokesman for the family, said that their case has been a “catalyst that united” conservative Christians “in a common cause that inspired us to witness for the values that represent us.”

175 Nations Sign Historic Paris Climate Deal

World leaders from 175 countries signed the historic Paris climate accord Friday, using Earth Day as a backdrop for the ceremonial inking of a non-binding agreement that aims to slow the rise of harmful greenhouse gases. “We are in a race against time.” U.N. secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York. “The era of consumption without consequences is over.” “The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create,” Ban added. The non-binding treaty, approved in Paris in December after years of U.N. climate negotiations, aims to slow the rise of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, blamed for putting Earth on a dangerous warming path. The deal sets a target of limiting global warming by 2100 to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F), as compared to pre-industrial levels. To accomplish that, each nation sets its own target for reducing emissions and updates that mark each year.

  • The non-binding deal is all show and little substance. However, it is another step in providing the underpinnings for a one-world socialistic, secular-humanist government.

World invested Twice More in Clean Energy Than in Coal and Gas

In 2015, the world invested twice as much money in clean energy than in dirty coal and natural gas. The world spent $286 billion on clean energy, more than ever before, according to a U.N. Environment Program report, and only $130 billion on new oil and coal projects. Solar power prices halved in just a few years — falling from $6.3 per watt of solar installed in the 2007 to 2009 period to $3.1 in 2014, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050,” the International Energy Agency says. Electric cars are also catching on in a big way. And as the electricity system becomes cleaner, too, that means that huge chunks of global emissions will be eliminated. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts electric vehicles will make up 35% of global new car sales by 2040.

However, SunEdison, once the fastest-growing U.S. renewable energy company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday as years of debt-fueled acquisitions proved unsustainable. In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it had assets of $20.7 billion and liabilities of $16.1 billion as of Sept. 30. The company said it secured up to $300 million in new financing from its first-lien and second-lien lenders, which is subject to court approval. The money will be used to support SunEdison’s operations during its bankruptcy, such as paying wages and vendors, and proceeding with ongoing projects.

Suicide Rate on the Rise in U.S.

The suicide rate in the United States increased by 24% from 1999 through 2014, according to a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics. The report is unique in that it breaks down suicide by different age groups and gender. The increase in suicide rate has been steady since 1999, before which there was a consistent decline since 1986. The report also says that the increase in suicide rate was higher among females (45% increase) than males (16% increase), narrowing the suicide rate gap between the two genders. But as of 2014, the suicide rate in males is still three times higher than in females. A vast number of people who die from suicide are those with psychiatric conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Experts say that the economic recession of the late 2000s and the increase of substance abuse are some of the factors leading to more frequent incidents of suicide. Middle-aged white people (ages 45-64) now account for a third of all suicides in the U.S., the report shows.

Manufacturers Bringing Jobs Back to America

The loss of American manufacturing jobs to foreign labor has been a central theme of several presidential candidates’ campaigns. However, the trend of offshoring may be slowing. According to non-profit advocacy group the Reshoring Initiative, offshoring resulted in a net loss of approximately 220,000 manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2003. However, according to the group, the country added roughly as many jobs due to foreign investment and reshoring as it lost to offshoring last year. Some of the largest U.S.-based companies, likely for both public relations and practical reasons, have begun building factories domestically for operations that would likely have gone overseas a few years ago. Harry Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, explained that recent developments have made the prospect of manufacturing domestically much more feasible. Moser cited economic troubles and rising wages in China as one of the primary drivers of this recent trend. While the reshoring phenomenon is primarily a byproduct of expensive labor abroad and high shipping costs, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States is often beneficial to a company’s image.

Economic News

The number of people either working or looking for a job — the participation rate — has been rising since September. That’s a sign that more Americans who were on the sidelines, not applying for jobs, are getting back in the game. The hope is that if unemployment claims decline further, employers will have fewer candidates to choose from and will have to raise wages to recruit or retain employees. Wage growth has been next to nothing during the recovery from the recession.

The estimated cost of Volkswagen Group’s emissions scandal has escalated to more than $18 billion, more than double the amount the company had previously set aside, the company said Friday. The company had previously set aside about $7 billion to cover the cost of repairs — but the mushrooming tab appears to reflect the likelihood of a massive settlement with U.S. authorities over the illegal software installed on about half a million diesel cars that fudged emissions data.

Uber has agreed to pay drivers in California and Massachusetts as much as $100 million to settle lawsuits in both states over whether its drivers are independent contractors or employees The cases revolve around Uber drivers in the two states who contend they are employees and therefore should be reimbursed for expenditures or losses incurred during the discharge of their duties. The class action settlement allows Uber to consider its drivers as independent contractors moving forward, a big win for a company whose business model depends on keeping costs low by merely serving as a conduit between drivers and riders, rather than Uber being an employer.

Trying to cut its way to profitability, troubled Sears Holdings announced Thursday that it will close 68 more Kmart and 10 Sears stores this summer in its latest move to cut losses after a previous announcement that it will close 50 other stores. All of the Sears stores and nearly all of the Kmart stores will close in late July, the retailer said. Workers being laid off at the closed stores will be able to apply at stores that remain open, the company’s statement said.

The cloud may be the future, but the specter of the PC lingers. Microsoft is the latest tech giant whose earnings say that loud and clear. Microsoft on Thursday posted substantial drops in revenue and earnings as it continues to navigate from its legacy PC business into emerging technologies — a day after chipmaker Intel announced a 11% workforce reduction. The Redmond, Wash.-based company reported a 6% decline in fiscal third-quarter revenue to $20.5 billion. Profits shrank by 25%.

Persecution Update

In the past month, Hindu extremists in the state of Bihar, East India, have attacked Christians in two separate incidents. The first attack occurred on April 5, when a Christian man was intercepted on his way to a local village to tell people about Jesus. He was taken to a Hindu center and beaten brutally for five hours. Five days later, on April 10, a prayer meeting was raided by 35 men, leading to the beating of many believers.

A major report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has concluded that the textbooks all state-schools in Pakistan are required to use portray non-Muslim Pakistanis as inferior, untrustworthy, and sympathetic towards the country’s enemies. Christians are portrayed as being the equivalent of colonial oppressors, while Hindus are treated as being loyal to India, against whom Pakistan has fought three wars.

Migrant Update

A top official says Turkey has deported 3,300 foreigners suspected of links to jihadi groups, particularly the Islamic State militants, and another 41,000 foreigners have been barred from entering Turkey as part of the country’s fight against the militant group. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also says Monday that Turkish profiling teams have interviewed 9,500 people upon their arrival in Turkey. Some 2,000 of them were denied entry. He says some 2,770 suspects, including 232 foreigners, have been caught in police sweeps and 954 of them are being prosecuted. Turkey, long accused of turning a blind eye to the extremists crossing into Syria, has now taken a larger role in the fight against ISIS. Four deadly bomb attacks in Turkey since July have been blamed on ISIS.

Islamic State

The Pentagon Friday acknowledged dozens of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria have occurred since the U.S.-led bombing campaign has grown more aggressive since fall. On Wednesday, USA TODAY reported that authority for bombing missions with the probability of harming civilians had been quietly delegated from higher headquarters to lower-ranking commanders in the field last fall. In effect, the decision has resulted in more airstrikes with risk of civilian casualties because the decision to bomb can be made faster. Commanders requested that authority to hit fleeting targets. All told, more than 40,000 bombs have been dropped in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. ISIS claims it shot down a Syrian air force jet east of Damascus on Friday and captured the pilot.

The United States has opened a new line of combat against the Islamic State, directing the military’s six-year-old Cyber Command for the first time to mount computer-network attacks that are now being used alongside more traditional weapons. The effort reflects President Obama’s desire to bring many of the secret American cyber-weapons that have been aimed elsewhere, notably at Iran, into the fight against the Islamic State. The goal of the new campaign is to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State to spread its message, attract new adherents, circulate orders from commanders and carry out day-to-day functions, like paying its fighters.

Syria

At least 18 people were killed Friday when airstrikes hit several rebel-held neighborhoods in Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo, anti-government activists said, an escalation that placed added strain on a fragile cease-fire. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial center, has seen sporadic clashes since the cease-fire took effect in late February, as government troops have advanced, boxing in opposition-held areas from all sides except for a corridor from the northwestern edge of the city. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rightsdescribed the series of airstrikes as the most intense on the city since the cease-fire began. The February cease-fire has been teetering amid rising violence, and U.N.-brokered talks in Geneva to resolve the conflict have been bogged down, with the Saudi-backed opposition delegation recently suspending its participation.

President Obama on Monday confirmed that he was authorizing the deployment of up to 250 additional military personnel for the 5-year-old conflict in Syria as the U.S.-led international coalition tries to “keep up momentum against the Islamic State.” The additional U.S. troops will provide training and assist local forces in the fight against ISIS, but not play an active combat role. The move raises the number of U.S. special forces in Syria to 300. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a press briefing ahead of the president’s speech that U.S. special forces in Syria were already making a difference and that the additional personnel would act as a critical “force multiplier.”

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car Monday in a commercial area in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killing at least 12 civilians. The attack in the capital’s eastern Shiite-dominated New Baghdad neighborhood also wounded at least 38 other people. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which controls key areas in the country’s west and north. Commercials and public places in Shiite-dominated areas are among the most frequent targets for the militants seeking to undermine government efforts to maintain security inside the capital.

Afghanistan

The crisis in Afghanistan has escalated to a new level of urgency, the outgoing head of the International Red Cross said Sunday, citing a record number of civilian casualties and evacuations of war wounded. In an interview with The Telegraph, Jean-Nicolas Marti said the drawdown of NATO forces has led to a rise in fighting. The Red Cross says the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2015, with more than 11,000 innocent men, women and children killed or wounded, Reuters reports. The number of wounded grew by 30 percent from the year before. The Red Cross has urged peace talks in Afghanistan, but the Taliban have said that they will come to the negotiating table only after western forces completely leave the country.

North Korea

North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine on Friday toward the East Sea on Saturday, the South’s Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting the South Korean military. The development comes amid reports in South Korean media that Pyongyang could be preparing for a nuclear test or the launch of another ballistic missile to mark the 6th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on April 25. The U.S. and Japan have expressed concerns over the prospects of the fifth such test since October 2006. The most recent nuclear test took place in January.

Vietnam

The worst drought in 90 years, combined with rising sea levels and rampant development, are causing a crisis in the Mekong Delta, known as Vietnam’s rice bowl. The delta is home to 20 million people and accounts for more than half of Vietnam’s rice and fruit production, 90% of its rice exports and 60% of fishery exports. But this year, paddy rice fields resemble a parched desert as farmers wait for a rainy season that is late to arrive. Small farmers who grow watermelons and orange trees about 40 miles from the South China Sea, have seen crop-ruining salinity intrude farther inland than ever before. A United Nations report released in March about the drought estimated that about 393,000 acres of rice in Vietnam was already lost, with an additional 1.2 million acres likely to be damaged. Almost 1 million people lack water for daily consumption.

Venezuela

The lights are going out in Venezuela. Government officials announced Thursday that they would begin rolling blackouts for 40 days in cities across Venezuela, starting next week. The move will help save power at a time when water levels at the country’s main electric dam are at record lows. The government says the El Nino weather pattern and drought are to blame. Outside experts say mismanagement and a corrupt government have been the root cause. It’s quite an irony for Venezuelans to be facing blackouts. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. However, it uses its oil to export to other countries, not to keep the lights on at home.

Mexico

A “pandemic” of femicide in Mexico was revealed Sunday by group of women in Mexico who organized a state-wide “day of action” against sexual violence. Several women’s rights groups signed on to the campaign, many via images shared on social media with the hashtag #24A or #NosQueremosVivas. The graphics depict street harassment and mourn murdered women who are being killed at the rate of six per day. They videos reveal the atrocious state of women’s lives in the state, which includes the sprawling Mexico City.

Weather

Winter isn’t ready to give up just yet. A cold April storm swept into California and Nevada on Friday. The current storm is first of a series of weather systems that will ride into the West Coast and sweep through the Intermountain West through much of the week ahead. The result will be snow in the higher elevations of the West. Monday, the next storm system sweeps into the Sierra Nevada, Great Basin and northern Rockies. Damaging storms brought large hail and a few reports of tornadoes to the Plains states Sunday. The chance for a few severe thunderstorms will move into the southern Great Lakes region on Monday.

Houston’s flood problems continued Friday as a tanker truck fell into a massive hole that opened in the roof of an underground parking garage. The incident came at the end of a tragic week of flooding in Houston that claimed at least eight lives across the city and led to over 1,000 water rescues.

Melting ice off the coast of far-west Alaska is forcing polar bears onto the land, dangerously close to villages where children walk to school unaccompanied across the snow-swept tundra. In these isolated communities, fears of a fatal encounter between stressed predators and the towns’ most vulnerable members have forced residents into action: they now train for polar-bear patrols. The problem is a lack of ice. Each winter, the narrow strait between Russia and the United States melts faster. The ice that does form is weaker, more susceptible to breaking up. While that’s opened up new areas for oil exploration and opportunities for shipping through the Northwest Passage, it’s also destroying the habitat of the polar bears who hunt seal from that ice.

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