Evangelist's Tsunami Efforts Stir U.S. Muslim Group

By Manuela Badawy

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Missionary Deception 1/9 - Fadel Soliman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. Muslim group on Thursday accused evangelist Jerry Falwell of using money donated for tsunami relief to convert people in South Asia to Christianity and called on the Bush administration to denounce his actions.

In an e-mailed weekly newsletter called "Falwell Confidential," which was obtained by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the evangelist said: "Hundreds of thousands are in dire need of medical attention and personal counseling. And in this heavily Muslim part of the world, millions have never even heard of Jesus Christ."

The newsletter, which is distributed by Jerry Falwell Ministries, said donations would be used to distribute food and Gospel tracts in the region.

A Muslim who received the e-mail passed it on to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.

According to a statement on and Liberty University's Web site, the school is preparing a team to travel to India, Sri Lanka and other countries in South Asia. Falwell founded Liberty University.

"Distribution of food and medical supplies, along with the dissemination of thousands of Gospel tracts in the language of the people will be the primary tasks of the team," the Web sites said. "Mission trips to the Asian region by many (Liberty University) students will follow in the months, and perhaps years, to come."

But Dr. Eddie Pate, professor and leader of Liberty's tsunami aid effort, said he did not plan to take "any materials or pass anything out." He said the team is going to South Asia to work with local Christian groups that are distributing food and medicine, and helping small businesses restart.

Falwell's office declined comment. The evangelist sparked controversy in 2002 when he called Muslims' prophet Muhammad a "terrorist" during a television interview.

"This is not the first time we hear about this kind of proselytism," Hooper said. "This has a negative impact, first, on interfaith relations, and second, on the trust and work of legitimate institutions working there."

Hooper said missionaries acting as relief groups could hurt rather than help these vulnerable societies.

"It would make work for legitimate institutions more difficult. It also harms America's image, which is already pretty tarnished in the rest of the world."

The White House had no immediate comment.

Earlier this week, reports that the missionary group WorldHelp planned to airlift 300 tsunami orphans from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, to raise them in a Christian children's home, caused a stir among Muslims. The group has dropped its plans, according to media reports.

WorldHelp officials were not immediately available for comment.

The tsunami has killed about 226,000 across Asia.

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DATELINE: LADONG, Indonesia - The Americans in matching T-shirts were greeted as heroes when they arrived one afternoon with clean water and medical care. But how the help got here was something the tsunami survivors could scarcely comprehend.

The forces of faith, fund-raising and globe-trotting volunteerism have opened a stream of private Christian aid to one of the most religiously conservative corners of Muslim Indonesia.

From the volunteers in a Ladong palm grove to aid provided by Samaritan's Purse, a group run by the son of evangelist Billy Graham, the initiatives show the power of church congregations to gather donations when tragedy strikes.

It also highlights the rising aspirations among a new style of Christian relief leagues mostly linked to evangelists and activists in the United States-

Some of the conservative Christian leaders who have outraged Muslims also have mounted aid campaigns to Indonesia.

Evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of veteran preacher Billy Graham, called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion" following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His Samaritan's Purse relief organization sent a 747 cargo jet with medical and humanitarian supplies as part of a $10 million aid effort. The younger Graham toured battered coastal towns in Sri Lanka and Indonesia this week.

A team from evangelist Jerry Falwell's Liberty University plans to travel to regions hit by the tsunami to bring supplies and "thousands of Gospel tracts in the language of the people," according to an announcement. In 2002, Falwell called the Prophet Mohammad a "terrorist" but later apologized.

Smaller Christian groups linked to evangelical churches also have joined the flow of tsunami help.

"Just when our nation's image in the Islamic world was improving as a result of the outpouring of American aid in the tsunami disaster area, we hear from those who would exploit the tragedy to advance their own extremist agenda," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on

In a January 12 "Falwell Confidential" e-mail obtained by CAIR, Virginia-based Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell makes a plea for donations to support relief work in "India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia." The e-mail states that "in this heavily Muslim part of the world, millions have never even heard of Jesus Christ."

(NOTE: Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet of God. The Quran, Islam's revealed text, states: "Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of)those nearest to God.'" [3:45])

According to the e-mail, Liberty University's "Director of International Crusades" will head a team sent to the region to distribute relief supplies. "In addition we will be presenting the Gospel to tens of thousands of persons through distribution of Gospel tracts written in the native languages of the area-Our ultimate purpose for this first mission is to set the stage for many other missions trips to this Asian region by hundreds of Liberty students in the months to come," said the e-mail. (In 2002, Falwell sparked international controversy when he called the Prophet Muhammad a "terrorist" on the CBS program "60 Minutes.")

"Just when our nation's image in the Islamic world was improving as a result of the outpouring of American aid in the tsunami disaster area, we hear from those who would exploit the tragedy to advance their own extremist agenda," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "It is inappropriate and immoral for any religious group, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, to use badly-needed humanitarian relief as cover for conversion efforts."

Awad said the Bush administration and mainstream Christians need to speak out on this issue to maintain the credibility of American humanitarian groups that do not misuse the access they are granted to vulnerable populations.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that another Virginia missionary group had airlifted 300 Muslim orphans from the Indonesian province of Aceh to Jakarta, where it planned to raise them in a Christian children's home. "If we can place them in a Christian children's home, their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people," said the group. After an international outcry, the same organization now says it never had custody of the children.


But in recent weeks, there has been a growing concern that some groups are offering more than secular aid, and their primary intention is to share their religious beliefs and seek converts among the victims, who are mostly Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.

Most of the larger relief agencies, such as Catholic Relief Services and the Red Cross, have policies against proselytizing. But others, particularly those who practice religions that emphasize conversion, say it is their duty to share their beliefs...

"I don't like the idea of anyone - Muslims or non-Muslims - taking advantage of someone in difficult conditions," says Rashid Ahmad, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley. "They should preach by their actions, not by their tongues..."